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Breaking the Silence: Speaker at BSU conference talks about 1977 attack in state park

One summer night in 1977, as Terri Jentz and her Yale roommate Shayna Weiss slept in a tent in a state park in Oregon during a cross-country bicycle trip, they were met with terror.

A stranger drove over the tent with a pickup truck and then attacked them with an ax, Jentz described Monday night at the Breaking the Silence Conference at Bemidji State University.

Reading a passage from her book, "A Strange Piece of Paradise," to an audience of 85 people in BSU's American Indian Resource Center, Jentz recounted the story of the attack on her and Weiss and their survival that night nearly 30 years ago.

"Screaming tires, that's what wakes me," read Jentz, who then recalled the feeling of a heavy weight hitting her shoulders and chest. "Reason tells me I'm pinned underneath the wheels of a vehicle, but why?"

As she waited in the darkness, a 17-year-old boy dressed in cowboy attire exited the pickup truck, attacked them with an ax and then disappeared, Jentz said.

As the keynote speaker for the two-day conference, Jentz continued to tell the story of how she returned to the small town in Oregon 15 years later in search of answers to the unsolved crime. After extensive interviews, Jentz confronted her alleged attacker, who was still living freely in the community.

The Breaking the Silence Conference concluded Monday night with Jentz's reading and interactive discussion. The conference schedule also included panels and talks on sexual assault, abuse, surviving, rape and legal issues.

The conference focused on building a civil community through the comprehension, education and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. It was designed for victims, volunteers and students, as well as professionals in law enforcement, health care, advocacy roles and education.

Students in BSU's freshmen honors class, "Voices: Violence, Arts and Creative Witness," this spring read Jentz's book, noted Carissa Massey, who teamed up with Margaret Dees to teach the class. Massey is the director of BSU's women's studies program and an assistant professor of art history and Dees is an assistant professor of music and clarinet.

Massey said the idea for the class stemmed from a discussion she had last summer at a luncheon with Dees and two other BSU faculty members, Janet Prater and Carla Norris-Raynbird. As they were talking, the women discovered they had all just heard Jentz interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio.

That discussion over lunch was also the inspiration for having the Breaking the Silence Conference at BSU and inviting Jentz to speak, Massey added.

On Monday night, Jentz said her mission is to "shock people with the insanity" of her story to bring awareness of violence.

"We have an obligation to spread the news," she said.

While she and Weiss survived the attack that night, Weiss suffers from amnesia and Jentz is left with her memories.

"It was a rude awakening," Jentz said.

When she returned to the small town in Oregon in 1992, Jentz found that members of the community had also been traumatized by the attack.

"They had been as devastated by this event as I had been," said Jentz, adding that these people treated her like a returning member of their family. "I was a piece of their history. I was one of their own."

As she travels, Jentz said she has discovered that the attack has impacted others around the nation and the world. Also as she travels, she said, she hears many stories of other women who were victims of violence.

She included some other stories of violent acts against women in her book.

"It was very, very important to me in writing this book that I write my story in the context of this larger issue of stories of all the other women," she said.