Those three haunting words headlined the Alligator, the student newspaper, this morning. It finished several days of coverage. For people outside of Gainesville or the UF community, that may not mean much. Around here though, they’re loaded with emotion.
Danny Rolling was a drifter from Louisiana who brutally murdered 5 Florida students in the Fall of 1990. There victims were four females and one male, a former football player. The town plunged into fear an panic. Firearms merchants saw their stocks bought up like they were water and canned goods before a hurricane. People answered their doors with baseball bats or guns in hand.
Rolling originally was arrested for robbing a Winn Dixie grocery store in Ocala, and it was months before he was linked to the Gainesville murders. It is a sad, tragic story, and it left scars that still have not healed. The city of Gainesville had been irrevocably changed.
In Fall of 1990, I was a 5-year-old living in Orlando, so I know nothing of what that time was like. I heard parts of the story over the years, but it was not until I came up here to Gainesville that I understood how big of an impact those murders had on this town. I’ve talked to many people who were here, and their tones change. They shake their heads and subconsciously bristle just at hearing the name “Danny Rolling.” It is something I will never be able to fully understand, since I was not here to experience it.
There were a few protesters in Starke at his execution, but far fewer than normal. Even the student editorials, that in my 3 and a half years have always been anti-death penalty, advocated death for him. He killed for no reason. Some of the victims were just in their first weekend at college, not even having had class yet. They did not know Danny Rolling, and he did not know or care who they were. He did not take their money or possessions. He came, he raped and murdered, and he left. In the time since, he has not once shown remorse either.
At 6:11 pm, on Wednesday, October 25 2006, Danny Rolling stopped breathing. At 6:13, he was pronounced dead. He may be gone now, but his memory will linger in Gainesville for many, many years to come.