She was walking home early last Thursday morning after a night out with her fiancé, Jeffrey Sparks, and friends Mary Jane Gibson and Scott Nath, who had all relocated together from Seattle. Five men and two women accosted the two couples. One man hit Sparks in the face with a pistol while another grabbed Gibson's purse. DuFresne confronted the attackers, asking, "What are you going to do next--shoot us?" The gunman tried to shoot Gibson, but his gun misfired. He turned on duFresne and fired one bullet into her chest. Sparks held his fiancée as she died on the sidewalk. Police have 19-year-old Rudy Fleming in custody and have charged him with duFresne's murder.
Papers and TV stations from Biloxi to San Jose jumped on the story with surprising intensity before it went international, appearing in Canada, India, and China. New York tabloids sold the story with dramatic headlines like "Beauty Slain" (New York Post) and "She Died in My Arms" (New York Daily News).
"If Nicole were watching all this, she'd be laughing her ass off," said Aimeé Bruneau, one of duFresne's friends.
The mini media frenzy around the shooting spun duFresne, and her death, into a few archetypal stories: a young artist--bright, beautiful, vibrant--goes to New York to make her fortune and is struck down by fate; a formerly derelict neighborhood on the upswing is unsettled by the violence it thought it had banished.
The story was picked up by all four major networks and CNN. Gibson said that she, Nath, and Sparks talked to as many reporters as possible, hoping that witnesses would step forward as the story grew.
DuFresne was well loved and respected in Seattle's theater community. She and Gibson made big waves with their two-woman show, Burning Cage, which won Artistic Pick (the highest juried award) in the 2002 Seattle Fringe Festival and toured successfully in America and Canada. Burning Cage was about women tossed into mental institutions for spurious "pathologies" like homosexuality and post-partum depression and subjected to experimental electroshock, sleep interruption, and LSD treatments. The show was, by all accounts, fantastic.
"There was a sparkly ozone whiff about them," said Tamara Paris, a former Stranger critic who got to know the women after seeing Burning Cage. "But they didn't use that to bludgeon the audience--they had a sensitivity and emotional honesty that made it real."
Friends consistently describe duFresne as smart, scrappy, and bursting at the seams. "I was drawn to work with her," said Bruneau, who acted with and directed duFresne. "She would always jump right in there, shadowboxing with critics backstage."
Friends and collaborators, including Gibson and Nath, remembered duFresne last Sunday at a memorial service at the Capitol Hill Arts Center. "People are scrambling to make sense of this when it's stunningly senseless," said Paris. "I don't want her life reduced to this ugly, clumsy, stupid moment."