The Gainesville Murders and the Execution of Danny Rollins

    Sixteen years ago, I lived in Gainesville, FL.  I was working in a small law firm as a legal secretary, and my boyfriend, now husband, was a medical student at the University of Florida.  One morning, we woke up to hear two college students were found murdered in their apartments, about a 1/2  mile from where we lived.  The next morning, another young woman was found dead, murdered in a brutal and shocking way, within a block of where we had first had an apartment in town.  The next morning, two people were murdered in the apartment complex across the street from where we lived.  It seemed like the killers were coming closer and closer to us.

Gainesville is a small southern town in many respects.  It is a college town, where the population swells dramatically when school is in session, and shrinks as dramatically during school holidays.  It is a place where you can ride your bike, walk at night, and feel pretty safe.  But because it is small and close knit, the murders sent terror into the hearts of residents as bad as, if not worse, as that we experienced post- 9-11.  You would hear reports on the news, and reports from local people that would double-count bodies, and get reports of police showing up in different spots in town, with the speculation that even more bodies would be found.  It was like being under seige, waking up and not knowing how many bodies would turn up the next day, or if it would be you.

We lived in a lower floor apartment with a walk-out set of sliding glass doors.  Easy access.  Immediately, all sorts of alarms, special window locks, broom handles, and any other form of security were being handed out like candy on Halloween.  Matt and I left Gainesville and drove down to his mom’s house in Ft. Lauderdale. School was closed for at least a week, and everyone felt bulnerable, and like they were haunted, but there were no obvious solutions to the problem.  No one knew what would happen next.

We eventually returned to Gainesville.  They thought they caught the guy, and it was a college student who had been evicted from a local complex.  Since our firm did evictions for another largely student complex, I was in fear for years after that anyone we had evicted would lose it and come looking ofr me or my boss at our small firm.  For a long time, we kept the front door to the office locked tight.

About a year and a half later, two more women were murdered in their apartment.  It turned out to be a carpet cleaner, but as soon as this news hit the airwaves, panic washed through the community again.  Matt was out of town, and I ended up spending the weekend at my boss’s house, for safety reasons.  We felt like it was deja vu and the fear returned many fold.  It soon passed as the man was caught and the community was reassured we weren’t facing the same menace as before.

Whenever something of this size trauma hits a community, it changes it and its inhabitants forever.  When I heard about Rollins’ execution, it brought back all these feelings for me, like a ghost of a nightmare, but still touchable, still real.  I can only imagine that people from New Orleans will feel this same sense of fear and forboding if any future hurricane comes even close to their shores, or how the people of NY felt with the recent plane crash on the Upper East Side.

Trauma changes you.  And things can unexpectedly tap those emotions and make you feel vulnerable again.  But we need to go on, take risks of daily life, and try to live fully despite our fears.  I am afraid that the execution of the Gainesville college student murderer won’t really serve to remove those fears, or even begin to make the families of the victims whole.  It did not make me feel any better, or feel like justice was served.  I am simply sad all over again, and weep for our lost innocence.

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20 responses to “The Gainesville Murders and the Execution of Danny Rollins

  1. Marsha Cross

    Just an FYI — his name was Danny Rolling. Not Rollins.

    • Buck

      Have you ever had a dread of falling asleep at night? I have. I was Danny’s cellmate!

      • good god, how did you sleep and did you know what he did? i mean were you there first,and they added this ass hole. that blows my mind. but so does the fact that richard ramirez is still alive. must be all his fan mail. send me a email, tell me what you did that they thought it would be ok to put you with him. its okay, i used to correspond with manson. he really liked dudes, and hates peas. juliet

      • Levi Arnold

        Then you must know my father well. if your not a fake, My father is Steve Arnold.

      • Levi Arnold

        FYI, He was inspector 1 at Florida state prison, he was the one you read dannys confession to. I currently have in my possesion dannys entier case filr, Every piece of mail he sent or recived was copyed and put into this file along with pictures of all his sick art work and several hand written letters from danny to my father. If you are interseted in the case. Im the man you want to talk to since my father passed away.

  2. ron combs

    i was actually trying to find someone who might tell me how to0 find an old friend, Karen (last name unsure, think it was castigliano, i do know it was itailian, and she had 4 yr old daughter at time. She would be in her fiftys now..any help greatly appreciated

  3. I’m getting ready to write a blog entry on the incident, found your blog as I was doing some research to refresh my memory on the details. I was in vet school at the time, and a classmate lived right below the first two murder victims. Vet school didn’t close down, and I slept with a knife next to my bed.

  4. @Alexela- I remember how scary it was, and how freaked out all of Gainesville was- those memories taught me a ton about group reaction, and even how a town can have PTSD when something horrible happens to their community.

  5. rachele

    all this happened the year before i moved from michigan to atlanta i remember reading about it in michigan, where i’d grown up underthesadow of a serial kiler named donald miller. he ws at michigan state university, where i took figure skating instruction as a kid. my mother never let me go in that arena without her sitting there and watching me. everyone was terfied. this creep murdered his own girlfriend, aong other innocent women.my mom rarely let me out of her sight. it affected people in mid-michigan teribly. it was so sad. those poor women were brutalized and murdered. another michigan mss murderer was john norman collins–also not too far from home.he terrorized university of michigan and eastrn michigan university in the late 1960s before he was finally caught and tossed in prison for life.he’s in a maximum security lockup, last i knew

  6. Bill

    We could really put together a nic piece featuring Danny the tallented singer and what happened in his life to bring about his evil counterpart Gemini.this could be made into a major story.

  7. lisette

    With all due respect, I would have to say that Hurricane Katrina was a bit of a different story!

  8. Whitney

    Please remember this post was written well before katrina. 2006.

  9. Pingback: gainesville fl murderer rollins | rasta k douglas walid portland oregon

  10. Emma.

    Actually, Katrina occurred in August of 2005, so this piece was written after it. And frankly, it’s insulting to read that someone who lived in a town that had a serial killer – but was not involved or had friends or relatives that were involved in any way, shape or form compare their “trauma.” I’m sure you didn’t mean to offend, but please, get a grip!

    • Hey Emma,

      Gimme a break. I was 22 at the time, and it was like the whole town went into lock down. it was weird and traumatic and while nothing compared to the victim’s friends and family, it was still awful to wake up every morning, having people murdered, your age, your height and build, in apartments across the street from you and not feel vulnerable and scared. Obviously, a number of years later, I’m fine, but it was not great at the time. plus this post was now written over 5 years ago, so get some perspective yourself please.

  11. It must have been terrible. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it was for the local people.

  12. Outstanding quest there. What happened after?

    Take care!

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  14. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy.

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  15. Making this post on 3/15/14. It has taken me all this time before I could finally type his name to look up information about his execution. I was your property manager at Mount Vernon and along with the police and maintenance man discovered Sonya and Christina at Williamsburg. Like you, all of us were stunned by this horrific event. I still grieve for these students and their families. Upon reading your blog, it really hit me that so many still feel the pain. Hope all is well with you and Matt. Betty

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