A note written in a child’s scrawl joined several bouquets of flowers underneath a stream of police tape on VerPlank Road at a makeshift memorial for Lori Bresnahan.
“I personally think you were the best librarian and you always helped me,” the note read.
Those words are typical of those used to describe Bresnahan, who was attacked the night of Thursday, March 14, while leaving a gymnastics class at Great Northern Mall with a 10-year-old child. David Renz, 29, of Cicero, forced his way into Bresnahan’s car, bound her and sexually assaulted the child, then drove them to VerPlank Road, where his car was waiting. The child was able to escape and was helped by a passing motorist. Meanwhile, Bresnahan suffered several stab wounds and later died at Upstate University Hospital. The child is currently recovering from her injuries.
Renz has been charged with rape in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree and murder in the first and second degree. He was being held without bail in isolation at the Onondaga County Justice Center.
Renz had previously been charged with possession of child pornography and was on conditional release. According to Matthew Brown, chief probation officer at Syracuse’s branch of the United States Probation Office, such a release is not uncommon.
“When someone is charged with a federal offense, they have their initial appearance at which they’re arraigned,” Brown said. “That usually occurs in front of a U.S. magistrate judge. His job is to determine whether or not to allow the person to remain free, whether it’s on some kind of bond or conditional release, or if he’s incarcerated until the case reaches its resolution after a trial.”
That decision is based on a pretrial report filed by the probation department.
“Whenever someone is brought in on their initial appearance, we do a pretrial release report, which is essentially a background check on the person,” Brown said. “We provide the court with that information — where they live, whether they work, if they’re a student, any issues that present a danger to the community or a risk of flight.”
Based upon that report, which also includes any prior convictions — Renz had none — the magistrate will decide whether or not to release the defendant. Brown said a good percentage of defendants in federal court are released, with or without conditions.
“It depends on the case,” he said. “They are innocent until proven guilty. They’re presumed innocent. If there’s no evidence that they’re a threat, they can be released.”
Brown said some defendants are released on their own recognizance, meaning that they don’t have to pay bail or wear a monitor like the one Renz outsmarted.
“It’s one of the tools that we use, but sometimes there’s no need,” Brown said.
Now that Renz has violated the conditions of the pretrial release, the federal government has the right to hold him until his trial, regardless of the state’s case. He will remain at the justice center until his trial, which has not yet been scheduled.
In the meantime, though Great Northern Mall property manager Alan Lipsey declined to comment on the mall’s security procedures and protocols — “If the people who would circumvent those procedures knew what they were, it makes it easier for them to do so,” Lipsey said. “We never divulge that information” — additional Onondaga County Sheriff’s patrols have been seen at the mall.
The Liverpool Central School District, where Bresnahan worked for several years, was reeling from the loss. The district was dispatching counselors to every building in the district.
“We are deeply saddened and heartbroken over the tragic events involving a staff member and a Liverpool student that have unfolded over these last few days,” said Superintendent Richard N. Johns in a Key Communicator message sent out Saturday. “Prior to commencing classes on Monday, each building will have a staff meeting to provide teachers with direction as to how to best address the needs of the children. Counseling services will be available for any student who may need it when we return to school on Monday.”
In addition, the district’s website lists resources for parents and families, including websites for Vera House and the National Association of School Psychologists on dealing with grief and death at school.
Bresnahan also left a legacy at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, where she received her master’s of library science in 1992.
“For those of you who knew Lori as a student, classmate, colleague, internship supervisor, and/or friend, you may remember her contagious smile, engaging personality and her strong commitment to her chosen profession,” said Dr. Ruth Small of the iSchool in a message on its website.
The school is working to establish a scholarship in Bresnahan’s name. They are also setting up a book drive for the LCSD in her memory. Both are in their initial planning stages, according to Blythe Bennett, program manager in the library and information science/school media department at the iSchool.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.