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Warning of violence

Linda Walker stood where her daughter Dru Sjodin stood almost exactly a year ago. Thursday night at UND, Walker spoke to more than 1,200 students at the 10th annual Take Back the Night rally against violence to women and children. "Before last No...

Linda Walker stood where her daughter Dru Sjodin stood almost exactly a year ago.

Thursday night at UND, Walker spoke to more than 1,200 students at the 10th annual Take Back the Night rally against violence to women and children.

"Before last November, violence was something other people experienced," Walker told the crowd seated in the Memorial Union Ballroom. "I didn't know the horror of the words, 'Your child has been abducted.'"

Nov. 22, UND student Dru Sjodin disappeared after walking out of Columbia Mall in Grand Forks and wasn't seen alive again. Her body was found April 17 near Crookston, the hometown of the convicted sex offender, Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr., who is awaiting trial on a federal charge of abducting Sjodin, leading to her death. Rodriguez, who pleaded not guilty, may face the death penalty if U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft decides to seek it.

Walker and other members of Sjodin's family avoid commenting on the court proceedings, including whether they asked prosecutors to seek the death penalty in trying Rodriguez. But it's difficult to still be dealing with the details of how her daughter died and finding justice, said Walker, who said she will attend Rodriguez's trial, which isn't expected to begin until next year.

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Honoring Dru

Part of the way she's honoring her daughter's memory is helping convince other young women that violence can be a threat for them, too, and telling them about the wrenching results of such violence.

"I'm here to tell you that abduction and abuse don't always happen to other people. It happened

to Dru, and it happened to me and my family," she told students listening in rapt silence Thursday. Walker spoke of her daughter's life, how she grew from "a toddler we called 'Glue,' because she stuck so close to us," to a "carefree, happy co-ed" at UND.

"I saw my little girl grow into a caring, thoughtful young woman," Walker said.

"But I'll never see her live out her life. I'll never see her walk down the aisle as a bride. I know Dru would have been a wonderful wife and mother."

Organizers of the rally said it was the largest by far in its 10-year history, and it seemed obvious many came not only because of the mild October night, but also to hear the mother of Dru Sjodin. The ballroom was packed from end to end with students sitting on the floor or standing against the walls.

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Information on a poster at the rally said that last year, the 18 violence crisis centers in North Dakota served 797 "primary victims," and 321 "secondary victims," up 14 percent from 2002.

On the back wall of the ballroom, projected on a giant white T-shirt used as a screen, was a photograph of Sjodin pinning up a shirt in the "Clothesline Project" associated with last year's rally.

The project includes shirts with writing from victims of sexual and domestic abuse, or about the victims, memorializing them.

"A year ago, she sat in here in the audience where you are sitting," Walker said of her daughter, who would have turned 23 about two weeks ago. "She didn't know that in a few short weeks, she would be a victim of violence."

Wendy Hewitt and her daughter, Andrea Hewitt, listened to Walker and then joined hundreds on a march down University Avenue to Sjodin's sorority, Gamma Phi Beta.

"It was so moving, and I was putting myself in Linda Walker's place," Wendy said. "I can't imagine not having my daughter anymore."

Andrea, 20, a sophomore at UND, said, "I didn't know Dru, but it did make me think it could happen to you. Now I look in my back seat before I get into my car. I'm more aware."

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