Eli Sanders Wins a Pulitzer Prize
But the Reaction from the Survivor of the South Park Attacks—the Subject of the Winning Story—Means a Lot More to Us
On Monday, April 16, Eli Sanders won a Pulitzer Prize for "The Bravest Woman in Seattle," a feature published in the June 15, 2011, issue of The Stranger. The piece was described by the Pulitzer committee as a "haunting story of a woman who survived a brutal attack that took the life of her partner, using the woman's brave courtroom testimony and the details of the crime to construct a moving narrative."
That story was the third feature in a series on the South Park attacks and subsequent murder trial. The first piece in the series, "While South Park Slept" (July 29, 2009), considered the crime in light of the changing character of South Park. The second piece in the series, "The Mind of Kalebu" (September 23, 2009), profiled the assailant, Isaiah Kalebu, who broke into a home shared by the two women in the middle of the night, raped them at knifepoint, and killed one of the women, Teresa Butz, 39. That article exposed major loopholes in the way mentally unstable criminal suspects are handled in Washington State.
The trial testimony of the survivor of the attacks, Jennifer Hopper, formed the basis of "The Bravest Woman in Seattle." Following Kalebu's conviction, Hopper publicly identified herself by name for the first time in a follow-up essay in The Stranger called "I Would Like You to Know My Name."
After the Pulitzer announcement, Hopper stopped by the offices of The Stranger to congratulate Sanders. She said, "Being the subject in his piece—feeling honored that he wrote it—that was enough for me. But now seeing it recognized that way..." She paused. "Teresa was known for having a very loud, exuberant clap. And that's what I pictured the whole day. I couldn't help but feel her nearby, and I felt such gratitude. I felt an intense sense of pride."
The Stranger is the fifth alternative newsweekly in the country to earn a Pulitzer. (The most recent was LA Weekly in 2007.) The award comes with a $10,000 prize. Locally, Sanders is joined by Seattle Times reporters Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong, who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for their series on Washington State's practice of overprescribing methadone to people in state-subsidized health care.
Jennifer Hopper continues to live in Seattle, though she no longer lives in South Park. On April 28, she will visit Madison, Wisconsin, to speak at the Voices of Courage Awards presented by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She will also be singing as a representative of the Angel Band Project. Proceeds from the Angel Band Project's album, Take You with Me, go to helping victims of sexual violence.