Every time Genelle Reilley walks past her bedroom window in Laguna Beach she remembers the morning in 1986 when she saw police approaching her house, carrying a paper bag filled with her daughter Robbin’s belongings.
“When I saw them I knew. I was frozen like an iceberg,” she recalled.
Robbin Brandley was stabbed to death about 10:30 p.m. Jan. 18, 1986, after leaving a jazz concert at Saddleback College, where she was a student. Her fully clothed body was found in a small parking lot by the campus perimeter road, just yards from the concert theater.
Three years later, her killer remains unknown. But her death has spawned an obsession with Reilley and her husband, John. For 3 years, the couple have been trying to establish a violence-prevention curriculum at Saddleback College, and for 3 years the college has rejected it. Recently, however, Cal State Fullerton expressed an interest.
Brandley, 23, was studying communication and fine arts and was a disc jockey for the campus station. she planned to attend San Francisco State University the next year.
After her death, the Reilleys sued the Mission Viejo community college and the state, alleging that officials were responsible for their daughter’s death and that the college did not provide adequate security and lighting despite earlier attacks in campus parking lots. The lawsuit also included a request to establish a nonviolence program and a wing in the school’s library dedicated to the memory of their daughter. That suit, which seeks an undisclosed amount of money, is pending.
The attack on Robbin Brandley was the second in less than a year on the campus. Since her death, three women have said they were sexually assaulted there, including one last week.
Reilley still wakes sometimes at 3 a.m.--the time police arrived. And she grieves, she says, for the person who killed her daughter. That person, like other killers, she says, probably was not nurtured or cared for, Reilley said. “Those are the ones who rape people and kill people.”
The college program the Reilleys seek would include classes about parenting and self-esteem, with workshops and speakers to discuss violence prevention.
“There was just this gnawing feeling that something had to be done,” she said. “We’re focusing on Saddleback College so we can make a difference. . . . I think classes and self-esteem are definitely needed, beginning at the earliest level.”
The couple’s attorney approached college officials with the program 2 years ago and again last week in an out-of-court settlement meeting, but was told the course would be too costly for the school.
“So we asked if they would reserve a section in the library with books dealing with the subject and have parenting classes where we could bring in about four speakers a year,” Reilley said.
“We would like Saddleback College to be a leader to try and prevent violent attacks from happening by supporting our program,” said John Reilley. “It’s like drunk driving. Maybe it can be controlled by educating people.”
Constance Carroll, the college president, said the Reilleys never contacted her regarding their program and said the college already has a 31-unit Victimology program through its Human Services Department that examines how to deal with victims of violence.
Carroll said that since 1983, the college has had a student escort service and 24-hour security patrol. But in the past year, since her death, the college has been closing the gates after 10:30 p.m., has improved lighting on the campus and in the parking lots, and has begun cutting back shrubbery to eliminate potential hiding places for assailants.
“On a 200-acre campus with about 20,500 students it’s impossible to keep track of everything that goes on, but we have been doing a better job,” she said.
If the two sides cannot reach agreement on the program before the summer, Reilley said, they will go to court July 17.
“I’m not going to go through all this pain and Robbin isn’t going to go through that terrible death for nothing,” Genelle Reilley said. “We can’t turn our backs on the serious social issue of the lack of security on campus. We want a positive change to come from our personal tragedy.
“Something good has to come from this. If it takes every ounce of energy I have I’ll use it to make sure something of educational value comes of Robbin’s death.”