Editorial: Palo Alto's saga of fear and relief ends | November 7, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 7, 2007

Editorial: Palo Alto's saga of fear and relief ends

Brutal abduction/assault and arrest of Paly graduate leaves community stunned, families in shock at random attack

Todd David Burpee's reported admission that "It could have been anyone" that he attacked Oct. 30 added a new element to a horrendous week of trauma for Palo Alto, from the 17-year-old victim to parents and young persons community-wide.

Burpee admitted to Palo Alto detectives that he attacked, threatened to kill, then beat, abducted and sexually assaulted the young woman shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday of last week as she arrived home from Gunn High School, according to a voluminous police report filed with the Santa Clara County Superior Court this week.

Palo Alto detectives Sal Madrigal and April Wagner reported that Burpee thought he had killed the girl after he smashed her head onto the walkway. Police said earlier she may have been unconscious for a time.

She escaped from his car about an hour later in Sunnyvale and was rescued by a motorist who saw her running down the street, bleeding from the mouth, crying and screaming for help.

The saga is a multiple tragedy, especially for the victim and her family.

It is also a tragedy for a young man, who once participated in track and football at Palo Alto High School and dreamed of joining the Marine Corps, whose life has now gone terribly, terribly wrong — and for his family.

The brutality of the attack and the new revelation of its chilling randomness will remain with the community for a long time, a shadow of fear and sense of vulnerability for everyone.

Burpee's reported admission to police will also echo in people's minds: "It could have been anyone. It could have been a guy. I was just mad." He told detectives he had had a fight with his fiancee prior to the attack.

There are heroes to be acknowledged.

There are the police officers and detectives who worked virtually around the clock to establish leads. There was the alert young officer, Eric Bulatao, who linked the police sketch of the abductor to a traffic citation he had issued earlier, enabling officers to pinpoint the San Jose residence for surveillance. It was the missing piece in a complex jigsaw puzzle, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said.

There was the courage of the girl herself, who dared to break and run and possibly save her life in doing so.

There was the concern of one motorist, Fred Brugener, 41, of Sunnyvale, who after many others drove past spotted a young woman in obvious distress, helped her into his car and summoned help.

The comments on Town Square, on the Weekly's community Web site, ranged from the lofty to the base, with angry suggestions that the perpetrator of the assault be castrated. Such comments fail to recognize that such crimes as abduction, sexual assault and rape (which this case wasn't, police say) are crimes of anger, control and assertion power rather than being primarily sexual. This is a long-established psychological pattern.

We trust that such expressions of gut-level anger and vengeance will pass, as others have suggested in Town Square postings as well.

This is not a case that will pass lightly from the memories of Palo Altans or others anywhere who have followed this terrible story. While we should not let fear dominate our lives or thoughts, perhaps extra precautions people take will save others from becoming potential victims in the future.

But now is a time for healing, introspection and relief that the young woman survived her ordeal. The outcome could have been far worse.


Like this comment
Posted by whose life has now gone terribly, terribly wrong
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:02 am

His life didn't go "terribly, terribly wrong." He made destructive, hateful, cruel, criminal choices. He's no victim, so writing about him as such is wrong.

Like this comment
Posted by janette
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:22 pm

Excuse me, it's a "tragedy for the young man"? What controlled substance is the Weekly on?

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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 7, 2007 at 4:49 pm

Yes, a "tragedy" implies a calamity, a sudden event. It was a tragedy for the victim. But the only way that it might be called a tragedy for the criminal is that he got caught.
I recommend the book, "Inside the Criminal Mind" by Stanton E. Samenow. He shows that "the young man" undoubtedly chose his criminal traits (the way he thinks) long ago, maybe going back as far as when he was 4 to 6 years old. He didn't just "snap". This is a big problem for him, but hardly a tragedy--he made the choice.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:06 pm

Mr. Burpee should be locked up and the key thrown away. If the state wants to give him anger-management therapy and a way that he may work behind bars so that he can spend the rest of his life repaying the debt he owes to that poor young woman he cold-bloodedly tortured for his own selfish enjoyment/relief of stress/cowardly attempt to feel powerful...fine...but he should NOT be let back out onto the streets where he can menace innocents again.

No...it is not the bullies we should protect and reward with freedom, it's the law-abiding citizens and generous personalities among us that we should encourage and reward with freedom...to say let this be a lesson for women/gentle folk to be more cautious is going down a dangerous path...what's next, should women only feel safe when being escorted by a man....should she only be allowed to feel safe when she stays locked up in her own home....I thought we had gotten out of the dark ages --that that is what we chastized the taliban for promoting ?! That we had finally become a more civilized society that protected and rewarded public service and citizenship, that finally provided safe public spaces for all law-abiding citizens NOT brutish, reckless, deliberately cruel, sadistic personas.

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Posted by dreed
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 8, 2007 at 12:33 am

It's bizarre and deceptive to characterize the situation as one in which the attacker had something go "terribly, terribly wrong" in his life. The use of the passive here is inappropriate. Let's start the sentence with "He did..." and finish it with "something terribly, terribly wrong."

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Posted by whose life has now gone terribly, terribly wrong
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2007 at 10:24 am

I'm glad to see the other comments posted showing other people's dislike of the usage of this phrase. It's awful to see a young person's life destroyed so quickly, but he did make the choices himself, and wreaked horrific havoc on someone else. The others' affected by this - loved ones of the victim and perpetrator, are important, but secondary. I'm glad that Burpee admitted what he did and seemed sorry. I do gotta wonder why he didn't pass his US military tests. They can't be THAT hard.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2007 at 10:56 am

I feel that I must be the only person who has some compassion for this young man. I have seen the video of his face at his court appearance and I see the face of a terrified and remorseful child in the body of a young man. It is apparent that he has experienced a difficult upbringing with domestic violence as the norm and when he loses his temper, he lashes out in the only way he has seen all his life.

What is scary in this is that in all the years he was at Paly, no one was there to help him when he needed it, no mentors, role models, to be the adult friend he needed. Where were the social workers, guidance counsellors, school psychologists, advisors, through all this? Were they spending all their time with the over-stressed, over-achievers, and those with the potential of suicide from this that we see in our high schools? Shouldn't they be there for kids like this, too?

What worries me even more is wondering how many are like this in Gunn and Paly, quiet, troubled kids from troubled backgrounds, waiting to turn out into the the same cyclical adults they have been raised by. These kids are there today and need help now.

What does scare me is that one of these kids could be sitting beside "my child" in class. Who is to know?

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Posted by hose life has now gone terribly, terribly wrong
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2007 at 11:19 am

Dear Parent, how do you know he didn't have role models or mentors or counseling? He had football coaches, teachers, bosses, a fiancee. There are many that come out of bad family backgrounds who don't kidnap, sexually assault & attempt to murder others. I don't feel much compassion for him because the horror he perpetrated on another was much greater than his stress. He was under stress due to his being investigated for felony fraud, & had a fight w/his girlfriend due to that. He's victimized plenty of people & he's responsible for that, whatever his background.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Well, its an interesting question - is a life wasted a tragedy? Its true he's made his choices, so he could hardly be thought of as a victime. So, at what point did the tragedy occur for him? As Wray suggests, perhaps as far back as 4-6 years old. Does a 4-6 year old make choices or is a 4-6 year old victimized by adults around him who brutalize or neglect?

parent, teachers, BOE - look around. Are we creating (or ignoring) any tragedy's in the making?

I don't defend this loser, but the concept of the boys life as a tragedy might be instructive to us if we wish to prevent this from happening again. We should be identifynig at risk and achievement gap kids, and helping them as little ones. With every ounce of resource we have. Instead we sit around dreaming up ways to lavish resources on boutique education for high achievers - aren't we hero's. shame on us.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2007 at 2:42 pm

"It could have been anyone..."
Anyone except someone who could have had a chance in a fair fight. Amazing how these black rages seldom see someone attacking someone bigger than them.

Like this comment
Posted by dreed
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 8, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Look, this attacker is an adult and made a conscious choice to assault someone horribly - so horribly that she will no doubt be deeply affected for the rest of her life. He could have chosen differently. We all make choices, and have to live with the consequences. I have a daughter. Should someone smash her face into the ground, my inclination would not be to convince as many people as I can to feel sorry for the violator.

We all face difficulties of all kinds, but can we really use those difficulties as an excuse to ruin other people's bodies, souls, and lives? Where is the compassion for the girl and her family? Why even focus on the attacker? He has not earned the right to my compassion or concern.

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