Who Wants to Talk?

I’ve received comments and emails from quite a few people who actually knew one or more of the participants in the story of Daniel Wozniak. Some people who knew Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi have expressed anger toward me or my blog, perhaps interpreting my friendship with Daniel as taking the side of a convicted murderer over the side of the victims.

I get that. I have lost loved ones: family and friends who have died of old age, disease, and tragic accidents. But I am lucky to say that I have not lost anyone to murder (knock wood). THAT must be the most difficult and incomprehensible way to have your loved one taken from you. It sickens my heart to even imagine what that pain must be like – especially for a parent losing a child.

I never met Sam Herr or Julie Kibuishi. Those who had the pleasure use adjectives like kind, generous, funny, and friendly to describe them. Both have been called “people who would do anything for anyone.” And there were plenty of examples mentioned during the trial.

I’ve also heard from family members and friends of Daniel’s. Those people knew him as kind, generous and funny as well. Occasionally someone from Daniel’s childhood will write to me and mention that Daniel seemed like he was insecure and he really wanted people to like him. But no one has come forward to say they “always knew Daniel Wozniak would do something horrible like this one day.” Nothing even close to that.

I really didn’t know the Daniel Wozniak who existed before the murders took place in 2010. And that means I don’t have to look back at my time with my friend and think, “Did I miss something?”

During the short time I spent around Daniel, my goal was to size him up as a possible actor for my next play. I talked to his director about his reliability to show up and learn his lines. I contemplated his general personality. Is this guy fun, but still dedicated? Is he creative, but will also do as he’s told? The male lead in my production was supposed to be in his 40s, and Daniel’s character in Nine was that age range. My thoughts were aimed toward “Do I want to work with this guy?”

Hindsight certainly has made that all insignificant.

Since I’ve only gotten to really know Daniel during his incarceration, I am not sure if the friend I know now is anything like Daniel before he did the unthinkable. People can change significantly when institutionalized.

I want to learn as much as I can about Sam, Julie, Daniel and Rachel. I’m writing about them, and I want to do my best to be fair and accurate. They are the principle characters in this tragic drama.

I know much less about Rachel than I do about Daniel. There are commenters who speak up for her regularly, and they maintain she is also one of Daniel’s victims. However, thus far her defenders have not actually acknowledged personally knowing Rachel Buffett. Perhaps an oversight?

I mention all this because my director side is coming out.

I feel compelled to create a character analysis for each of “the leads” (for lack of a better term). A director does this so the character on the page can become a real-life flesh-and-blood person for the audience. I’m not trying to sound like I’m sucking up to people who knew Sam and Julie, but it does sound like they were both pretty amazing people. Julie and Sam were flesh-and-blood people, but I didn’t get to meet them, and most of the people who read this didn’t get to either.

When directors and actors are trying to learn about a character in a script, the best way to do that is to study what others say about the character, and to look at the character’s own words and deeds.

Before I begin this undertaking, I want to point out that I’m not trying to diminish these actual real human beings by “characterizing” them. Really, my goal is quite the opposite. I want to put out what I’ve learned so far from court witnesses, newspaper articles, TV interviews, people I’ve talked to, people who’ve written to me on the blog, and my own knowledge of human beings. Then, I’m hoping if any of my descriptions are inaccurate, the people who knew Sam, Julie, Rachel or Daniel before 2010 will contact me, and let me pick their brain.

Okay. Character analysis time.

I’m going to begin with the one I actually know-ish.

Daniel

He is the youngest of three boys, and there is a ten-year time gap between him and his next older brother. Daniel grew up in church-going Catholic family. Both of his parents worked, so Daniel spent a lot of time with his grandparents after school. Although Daniel’s mother had an important career with the city, her work didn’t keep her from being a hands-on mother. The Wozniak family never wanted for money. They traveled. They owned nice things. They had a big house. Neither of Daniel’s older brothers created illustrious lives for themselves, and I think Daniel’s mother had envisioned that he would be the son to go to college and have a successful career. Maybe something in accounting.

Daniel wasn’t a problem at all. He was a good kid. He was on the honors roll and good grades came pretty easily to him. He wasn’t a “cool kid,” but he was a natural performer and well liked by teachers and students. Something inside him wanted everyone around “to have a good time,” and he used jokes, singing, dancing and magic tricks to make that happen. I think his mother was proud of her son’s talents, but thought of being an entertainer as a fun yet trivial side project. Daniel never envisioned himself being a future star of stage and screen. He just really enjoyed performing. It made him happy. The world of the theatre was a place where roles came frequently and easily.  And the accolades were many. It was the perfect place for this goofy, dorky, show-off who was a combination of insecure and cocky (like most actors).

In his early 20s, Daniel was pretty casual about his plans for the future. He had a good job. He was acting and singing in musicals, and he was having fun. But he wasn’t really planning his life out the way his mom had hoped.

The Daniel I know plans everything to a T. He is always thinking twelve steps ahead. It’s a dichotomy to me that my friend didn’t have his whole life already totally mapped out.

He took a couple of community college classes, but didn’t have any degree goals. He saw himself as a salesman. He was a successful one too, and believed that real-life experience would be much more useful to him than sitting in a classroom.

Daniel and his mom often locked horns over his life choices. He and his father had similar “more casual” personalities. Partying until the wee hours, dating non-Catholic girls, and having a lackadaisical attitude toward college didn’t go over well with MaryAnne Wozniak.

By the time 2010 rolled around, Daniel was living in an apartment with Rachel, and he was estranged from his parents. Even his easy-going father was against Daniel and Rachel’s fast-moving relationship. Choosing Rachel wasn’t the only reason Daniel moved out of his parents’ house, but it was the one that would become the most life changing . I can’t imagine there was anything more important to him after that than proving to his parents he was right by having a happy marriage and successful life.

I can’t write nearly as much about Rachel, Julie or Sam. I just don’t know as much… yet.

Rachel

Rachel Buffett is definitely the most difficult person for me to figure out. I know very little about her. Sometimes I think Daniel didn’t ever completely understood her, either. There are times he tells me stories about arguments they had, and I think that she was completely right in the situation and I probably would have sided with her if I’d been there. He sounds like he was a bit of a know-it-all with her.

On TV, and in the police interviews I’ve seen, Rachel often comes off as blank and emotionless. It’s a criticism I’ve read about her often. She just doesn’t act the way we think someone should act when her fiancé has just told her he murdered two people. But what if Rachel has always been shy and introverted? These aren’t qualities people normally associate with musical theatre performers, but it really isn’t that unusual for an actor to only feel comfortable on stage and playing another person.

Rachel is the third of five children. She also comes from a very religious family. She and her siblings were all home schooled by their mother. (I just recently learned that Daniel’s mom and Rachel’s mom have the same name.)

Daniel quickly became close with the entire Buffett family. He thought of them as a combination of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver. He couldn’t believe that families still went door to door Christmas caroling. He loved them. He felt like a member of Rachel’s family.

Rachel’s mom and dad were completely supportive of Daniel and Rachel getting married.

When I “met” Rachel at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company during the rehearsals of Nine, she came off as snobby and unfriendly, but I know this often happens with people who are shy. Also, I was directing the next musical, and actors sometimes just know how to act around directors. I wanted her to audition for my show as well, but I kind of just assumed that if I got Daniel there, she’d come along too.

I’m not proud of that lame attitude, but directors in Orange County usually had to focus first on getting their male roles cast, because there are so many less good male actors and there are always tons of great roles available for them. Truth be told, I thought she was a much more talented singer than Daniel.

When it comes to Rachel, there are so many things I can’t figure out. I can’t decide if she’s a silly little airhead or a complete genius. Is she a sweet and demure little princess who has been horribly duped by the man she loved? Or is she the super-stubborn “my way or the highway” hellcat who once physically attacked Daniel at a party?

Maybe she’s all of that.  Maybe I will learn a lot more about her when she’s on trial.

For the descriptions of Sam and Julie, I need to rely on what was said about them in court and through the media. Right now, I know the least about them and I want to be very careful and respectful. I hope through research and interviews that I will learn so much more about them.

I had the opportunity to talk with Sam’s dad Steve on a couple of occasions during the trial, but that wasn’t really the time or place to interview him. I hope to talk with him again in the future. Any chance to speak with anyone in Julie’s family would be so appreciated.

Until Daniel is finally sentenced and leaves Orange County, I can’t bring myself to approach any of Sam’s or Julie’s loved ones. I don’t know if Daniel going to prison will give them closure, but maybe it will help heal the wound a bit. They might never want to talk to me, though. Could they trust a person who identifies herself as a friend of Daniel Wozniak?

I think they can.

Sam

When Sam’s dad called him a “big galoot” during an interview, the smile on his face showed how much Steve Herr liked his son. Of course Sam’s parents loved their son, but Steve really liked Sam, too. He was an only child. His parents didn’t think they could have children, and when Sam came along, he became the most important thing in both his parents’ lives. He was their “prince.”

It sounds like Sam was popular and outgoing. He probably always made friends easily. I’m guessing Sam wasn’t always the best student. I don’t think the academic part of school was his favorite.

We know he got into some major trouble in his late teens. I don’t know what happened there. Did Sam lure his friend to be murdered? Did Sam get off on a technicality? Should he have gone to prison? I don’t know.

But, he didn’t go to prison. He went to war. He defended our country. He was brave and honorable, and became like a brother to many of his fellow soldiers. Sam came back a better man and a richer one. He was going to college and working toward a bright future. Sam Her had his life stolen from him in a stupid theatre, but there was so much more to him than just the way he died.

Julie

I actually start to tear up when I even think about Julie.  I know so many kids who went to OCSA (the Orange County School of the Arts). I can just imagine Julie dancing and singing around the courtyard at the school during lunch. OCSA is a special place filled with extremely talented kids. And Julie was talented. She was a gifted singer and dancer, but also had a flair for fashion design, and she had recently decided to look toward a career in that industry.

Julie was smart and sweet and kind. I’m not just throwing these words around because they sound good – I could see it in the faces of her family members when they testified in court. Julie Kibuishi was part of a very close family. She and her younger sister lived with their parents. There are two older brothers as well. There’s a tribute video to her on YouTube and the photos show a loving, happy family, so it’s sickening to watch the video and know this beautiful girl with the brilliant smile has been ripped away from them.

I suspect that Julie was innocent and perhaps a bit naïve. Not such a strange thing for a young woman of 23. Julie trusted people. On the night she was murdered, her last text to her brother said that Sam was crying.  She must have been told that, because Sam wasn’t there, Julie entered that apartment because she would do anything for her friends, and she thought Sam needed her.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  I hope my descriptions were pretty accurate, but there’s a lot more to learn about these four people and finger-crossed that some of you can help me out. If anyone reading this is willing to talk to me (if you don’t want your name used, that is not a problem), please fill out this super short form and I will contact you.  Thanks in advance for your help.