NEWPORT NEWS — The woman in the photograph has a crimson bruise above her left eye. Her dark brown eyes stare back at the camera — defeated. The photo was taken in 2008 after her boyfriend was charged with beating her while she was pregnant. It was two years before he confessed to killing her.
The woman in the photograph is Danielle Knarr.
Knarr (pronounced ka-nar), was found dead shortly after midnight on Feb. 2 at Aqueduct Apartments. She was stabbed 26 times with a hunting knife — her two children were in the next room. She was 25. Her boyfriend Owen Atlee Walker Jr. confessed to killing her, according to police, and is charged in her death.
Two doctors have ruled that Walker, 27, was insane at the time of Knarr's slaying. He sits in Hampton Roads Regional Jail waiting for a judge to render a decision on the insanity evaluations. It's an outcome that's tough to accept for Knarr's family and friends, who say the two had an abusive relationship that spanned nearly four years.
Walker and his attorney declined to be interviewed for this story.
The details of their life together are tracked through court documents, criminal complaints and the accounts of family and friends.
She was drawn to him
"Danielle was the type of person that no matter where she went, she always found a friend," said Nicole Castro, Knarr's best friend.
The two met during their freshman year at Kecoughtan High School. Castro described Knarr as outgoing and "the life of the party."
"I don't remember the exact story of how we met," Castro said. "She was always better than me at telling people that story."
Knarr and her older brother were raised in Hampton by their mother, Carol Mitchell. Her parents divorced when she was a child. Mitchell said Knarr decided she wanted to pursue a career in art animation when she took a class in the 11th grade.
It was a goal she was still working toward when she enrolled in a photography class in 2006 at Thomas Nelson Community College. It was there that she met Walker. The two formed a bond, which some say, was fueled by their love to capture life's moments through the camera's lens.
"They would go places and take random pictures and photo shoots together," Castro said. "They both had an artistic side. She was drawn to him I felt for that reason."
One of their photo shoots was taken at a cemetery, recalled Jihan Gary, one of the couple's classmates.
"They were shooting it like they were having a wedding at a cemetery," said Gary, of Newport News. "They were in some kind of tomb or enclosed space. I think they did that for fun. It was mysterious."
Outside the classroom the two would spend much of their time together. Castro remembers going with Knarr to visit Walker when he worked at Patrick Henry Mall. That particular day Knarr and Walker talked for about three hours between him helping customers.
"She wanted to be there just because he was there," Castro said. "She just wanted to be around him. She thought he was a catch - the greatest thing ever. In the beginning it seemed like they had a lot in common."
Castro says she didn't approve of their relationship because Walker was married. It was a fact that Knarr learned early on, Castro said, but didn't deter her from dating him. By the spring of 2006 Knarr found out she was pregnant. It was news that was bittersweet for Knarr, who didn't want to be a single mother, Castro said. It was during her pregnancy that family and friends first saw tension in their relationship.
"She called me screaming and crying," her brother, Carey Harper, recalled. "I couldn't understand what she was saying and then the phone went dead."
When Carey got home, he saw a hole in his wall and later found a kitchen knife wedged in his bedroom door. The couple had an argument and Knarr locked herself in Harper's bedroom closet. She told her brother that Walker had chased her with a knife. She was eight months pregnant.
"She was looking in my closet for my gun," Harper said. "She was going to shoot him."
When he asked the couple what happened, their stories differed.
Harper said that Knarr told him, "he hits me."
"Owen told me she was trying to hit him and he was blocking," Harper said. "I told him don't lay a hand on my sister. He apologized about the hole in the wall, but denied hitting my sister."
After the incident, Knarr went to live with her mother and stepfather, Ripton Mitchell, in Newport News. By the time Knarr had given birth to her daughter, her mother says Knarr and Walker had mended their relationship. It was an attraction she didn't understand. When Mitchell went to visit Knarr in the hospital, Walker was at her bedside.
Caught in a web
Knarr was stuck in a web of break up and make ups with Walker, friends say. She wanted her kids to know their father, which made it hard for her to walk away for good. When they would separate, Knarr led the life of a single mother, which included working a full-time job and attending college.
"Danielle was definitely lonely," Castro said. "She wanted somebody in her life. She wanted her children to have a mother and a father. I think her loneliness made her continue to be with Owen."
Mitchell says Knarr didn't talk to her much about Walker. It was only when their arguments took a violent turn that she would get a glimpse of their life together. In August of 2008, Mitchell's phone rang.
"Police called me and asked me to pick up the baby," she said.
Knarr and Walker were at the Newport News Sheriff's Office after getting into an early morning fight. She told her mother that Walker hit her when she asked him to check on their crying baby. Knarr was nine months pregnant.
"He kicked her out the bed…" Mitchell said Knarr told her. "She said all she could do was roll herself into a ball.
Walker was arrested and charged with assault and battery, according to court documents. An emergency protective order was issued on Aug. 10, 2008 that read: "Mr. Walker assaulted and battered Ms. Knarr by scratching and punching her several times causing lacerations on her legs, chest, upper body and forehead."
Walker was ordered to complete an anger management program. At her mother's request, Knarr took out a permanent protective order against Walker.
"She wanted to get one," Mitchell said. "She was afraid of him by then."
The protective order was still active on Feb. 2 when Knarr was killed.
Her mother and stepfather said they had a "frank" talk with Knarr about her relationship when the violence continued.
"You can have any man," her stepfather, Ripton Mitchell, told her. "Why do you want this boy? Look at what he has done."
"I told her, 'He's gonna kill you and he's gonna get away with it," her mother said. "It didn't make any difference to her. It's not like people didn't tell her."
A month after the protective order was issued Knarr posted a poem on her MySpace page called, "Ghost."
"She's dead, a ghost girl powerless under his spell. Love has killed her and he's now a monster picking her weaknesses. Laughing as she fell. Twisted in a vortex of painful love. Can't escape too late, she's down. Caught in the web of the spider. This frail fly has had its time."
In 2009, Knarr went to visit a high school friend in Florida and fell in love all over again. But this time she wasn't in love with a man — she was smitten by the possibility of a new beginning for her children. Castro said Knarr's dream was to move to Florida and eventually work for Pixar.
"She would get excited looking at houses in Florida on the Internet," said co-worker Lynn Bolden. "She was trying to start over with her children. The children were her life."
As family and longtime friends grew tired of hearing about her ups and downs with Walker, Bolden became the person she confided in. She recalls Knarr coming to work with bruises. One day she asked Knarr about her wounds. She told Bolden she had "flipped on a boat."
"I said, "Yea, OK," Bolden says. "As the day went on I looked her straight in the face. 'Danielle you're a liar. You didn't flip."
Bolden said Knarr covered her head and said no.
"Me and Owen got into an argument and he pushed me and I pushed him back and he lost it and he pinned me down," Bolden said, Knarr eventually told her.
Castro worked in the same office as Knarr and Bolden, but by late 2009 most of her conversations with Knarr were about the two children – not Walker. The mention of him had become contentious.
"I got fed up with her because she was constantly taking him back … ," Castro said. "He kept coming in her life and leaving her life."
The day before Knarr's death, Castro found out her friend was back with Walker. The news disappointed Castro, but didn't surprise her.
"She wasn't going to tell me that," Castro said. "I didn't say anything because I didn't want to get in a fight with her about it. At that point I was done with hearing about Owen. I felt like, 'You're allowing this man to do this to you, if you continue to allow it, then what's going to happen?"
The best friends never got a chance to talk. Less than 12 hours later Knarr was dead.
At 1:45 a.m. on Feb. 2, Walker walked into the Newport News Sheriff's Office and approached the secretary at the magistrate's window. He told her he was turning himself in, according to the criminal complaint.
"When she inquired about the charge, Mr. Walker replied he had just killed someone," the complaint states.
Knarr's mother works as a nurse at the Sheriff's Office. She was there that morning, and heard a man had confessed to killing someone. She didn't know it was Walker, but recognized the car he was driving. It was Knarr's gray Lincoln LS.
"I just lost it," she said in an interview the day after Knarr's death.
Walker gave a "full confession" to stabbing Knarr, police said, and he was charged with murder. When police arrived at Knarr's second floor apartment on Aqueduct Drive, she was dead in the hallway. According to the autopsy, she was stabbed 26 times. Authorities say Knarr was dead for about an hour prior to Walker going to the Sheriff's Office. Knarr was stabbed with a Gerber hunting knife that had a 6-inch blade, according to the autopsy report. The knife had been cleaned with bleach and was lying beside the kitchen sink when police arrived, the search warrant states.
"I never thought he would kill her," Castro said. "I never thought he would go that far. Maybe a part of me didn't think that because I thought Danielle would get out."
A different kind of justice
Walker is in custody at Hampton Roads Regional Jail. In recent months, two doctors — one recommended by the defense and the other by the prosecution — told a judge that Walker was insane at the time of Knarr's death. A Circuit Court judge is expected to decide Walker's fate on Aug. 10.
"Nobody can tell me that this boy didn't plan this," Mitchell said. "I don't care what a psychiatrist said. This was planned. What was his motive? She was going to leave him. She was going to Florida."
Crystal Casey, an ex-girlfriend of Walker's, says this is not the man she knew when they dated in 2001.
"He must have just snapped…He didn't mean to do this," Casey said. "He was out of his mind. He left himself for a minute. Judgment should be left up to God."
In 2001 Walker was charged with assault and battery after getting into a fight with Casey, according to court documents. Walker was ordered to anger management and the charge was later dropped.
"This girl was super strong," Carol Mitchell said about her daughter. "She had that drive and determination that she was going to make it. This young man just snuffed out her dreams for nothing and that's very painful."
Mitchell and her husband have custody of Knarr's two children: Gianni, 3, and Giuseppe, 1. Gianni mentions her often. Police say she was awake during her mother's slaying.
"Mommy fell down and hit her head," she told Ripton Mitchell, after Knarr's death. "Her shirt was wet."
"I asked her what color was her mommy's shirt and she said 'red.'" Her comments about her mother come often and without warning, Knarr's parents say. A couple of weeks ago, Gianni was riding in the car and said: "Daddy stabbed mommy."
Knarr's mother says justice might not come through the Newport News court system.
"Man's law is not perfect, but there are a lot of laws," she said. "There is street law and God's law. There may not be an earthly punishment."
Photographs of Knarr are spread throughout her parent's living room. They are nothing like the 2008 photo that showed a battered woman with a crimson bruise above her left eye. One is from her high school graduation. Others are from childhood moments spent with family. But there is one that sits in a new gold-colored frame. In the photo Knarr is standing on a wooden deck wearing a set of white pearls. She's smiling.
The bottom of the frame reads: "Faith is confidence in God when you do not understand."
Domestic Violence Resources
Transitions Family Violence Services: transitionsfvs.org
Confidential 24-hour HOTLINE: 723-7774
Avalon: A Center for Women and Children: avaloncenter.org
Crisis line: 258-5051
Laurel Shelter Inc.: laurelshelterinc.org
Domestic Violence Hotline (804) 694-5552
Genieve Shelter: home.earthlink.net/˜genieve88/
Warning signs of an abusive partner
-Isolates you from family and friends
-Discourages you from working or going to school
-In a rush to move in together or get married
-Embarrasses you with put-downs
-Makes you ask for money or refuses to give you money
-Destroys your property or threaten to kill your pets
-Threatens to commit suicide
Source: Transitions Family Violence Services and The National Domestic Violence Hotline