MADISON (WKOW) — A Wisconsin woman shaped her entire career after a tragic event in 1981.
On February 2 of that year, Christel Boeck’s brother Rick Boeck became a victim of serial killer Ray Lee Stewart.
“The headline news comes on a few minutes before six,” said Christel Boeck recalled. “The news station says, killing at Beloit Mall.”
Christel’s brother was a manager at Beloit Mall’s Radioshack store. “We knew within that first minute of the clip on the news,” she said.
Ray Lee Stewart had gone on a five-day shooting spree, killing four people in Rockford and two in Beloit including Rick Boeck.
“In a time of tragedy, people just don’t know what to say to those who have suffered the loss,” said Christel. “Not even the school guidance counselor approached me and checked in with me or offered anything, and I was just on my own to figure all this out.”
During Stewart’s trial, Christel was only a freshman in college, still trying to make sense of what had happened and the court proceedings.
“I didn’t understand what was being said in the courtroom, so I just took an elective — Intro to Criminal Justice. I really enjoyed that class,” she said.
Christel enjoyed it so much she made that her college major. A twist of fate led her to an internship with her local sheriff’s office.
“Mom tells the story that the first night I came home from just being in dispatch, she’s like I knew. Just watching, hearing, seeing, she’s like, I knew that was your calling,” Christel said.
Christel’s mom was right. She had a 21 year career with the police department in Phoenix, Arizona. After the Arizona governor at the time heard what Christel had gone through, she was chosen to write victimology curriculum.
“Everyone always remembers the killer’s names… but they don’t remember the victims, and you want your loved ones to be remembered,” she said.
“I look at my career in law enforcement that maybe I was the one who could make a difference in a person’s terrible time of tragedy.”
Meanwhile in 1996, Ray Lee Stewart was put to death in Joliet, Illinois. Christel came back from Phoenix for the execution in hopes it would bring her closure.
“We sat in a conference room watching the execution on a TV that was about 19 inches big. It was a black and white TV, and it had no audio,” she recalled. “The emotions of what I thought was going to be this great aha moment of closure, was the realization that nothing changed. Nothing changed. The world’s still going around. The sun still comes up. And Rick is still dead.”
It was only just a few weeks ago present day, Christel met a reporter who covered the Ray Lee Stewart case extensively. During their conversation was the first time she heard Stewart’s last words.
“I hope this brings peace to the victims,” Christel repeated all these years later.
38 years have come and gone since Rick’s murder. Since then Christel retired from her career as a cop but decided to stay in law enforcement. She is now back in Wisconsin, working as a training coordinator for the Madison Police Department.
Christel said she’s able to use her own life as teaching moments for recruits. “Take your background, take your history, take your story. Because when you talk to a victim. It might just be a minute of your shift, of your week, of your career, but to that victim, it was everything.”
As for closure, Christel called that a myth. “There is no closure,” she said. “Things may get better or you find ways to deal and cope.”
“My hope is that out of a horrible tragedy, something came out of it.”