News: Milwaukee County





Pain, but no answers

Teens killed by train seemed happy, parents say

Posted: Jan. 21, 2006

On the Web site, a pale girl stares out from under black-dyed bangs. Her thick eyeliner is black. Her hooded sweat shirt, black.


The caption under the photo reads, "This life aint worth livin."

In a posting to the site, a second teen girl responds, "BABY, JOIN ME IN DEATH."

Her photo is bathed in red. Fake blood drips from her mouth and smears her neck, her shoulders and the white bathtub in which she sits. Her bright blue eyes, staring up at the camera, belie the lifeless pose.

The girls, Heather Bates, 14, and Arielle Daniel, 17, were killed by an Amtrak train on Saturday, Nov. 12. Last week, the Milwaukee County medical examiner said they committed suicide, a finding their parents dispute and are working to have amended.

Heather's mother, Carole Miller, said she visited her daughter's Web site on nearly every day. When Miller asked Heather about the troubling phrases, Heather told her they were song lyrics by the punk rock band HIM. When Heather met Arielle on the Internet - just weeks before their deaths - Heather e-mailed her mom Arielle's bathtub photo, a re-creation of a scene from an Italian horror film.

But Miller never looked at the photo. "Now I wish I would've," she said, "because I would have questioned it."

Sites such as, where people create their own home pages and post their thoughts, photos and links to other profiles, have become increasingly popular with teens such as Heather and Arielle. Such sites can be a double-edged sword, experts agree. Sometimes, they serve as a positive outlet for teens' feelings. Other times, Web sites and chat rooms can fuel negative relationships and reinforce destructive thoughts.

"It's another medium that can be a useful tool or a harmful one," said Michael Bell, director of behavioral health at Milwaukee Health Services Inc. "The common denominator is that the parent needs to monitor it."

We are so young, our lives have just begun

- "Join Me in Death," HIM

To those who knew Heather and Arielle, their sites were ways for the girls to channel their creativity. To understand the context of Heather's site, you'd have to know about her sense of humor, according to her mother.

"If you didn't know her, you'd get really offended," Miller said. "She did it in a joking way."

Arielle, meanwhile, loved all kinds of movies and special effects, and reflected that interest on her site. She longed to be behind the camera as a director, said her father, David Daniel. When Arielle watched movies, she kept up a running commentary on lighting and camera angles. She also wrote movie and music reviews for Oak Creek High School's literary magazine.

In happier days, before her parents split up in September, Arielle and a friend visited California with them. The girls walked down Hollywood Blvd., feeling like movie stars.

"They were in all their glory, being in Hollywood," Daniel said.

When Arielle was a little girl, birthday parties became big, theatrical productions. Her birthday, Oct. 19, was close enough to Halloween to combine the two celebrations with "the whole nine yards," her father said. The cake. The fog machine. Balloons and decorations. Lots of kids.

At high school, however, she didn't seem to need to be popular.

"She wanted to be an individual, not a follower," her father said. "She wanted to be different. She wanted to be into film and photography and to be an artist."

The Friday before Arielle died, her father dropped her off at school. She planned to spend the weekend at her mother's apartment. He commented on the fact that she was wearing a dress. Told her to study hard. Told her he loved her. Told her he'd see her again on Monday.

Arielle smiled as she walked confidently away.

"She gave me a hug and a kiss and said, 'I love you, Dad,' " he said. "I gave her a hug and a kiss and said I loved her."

Heather's mom had last seen her daughter less than two weeks earlier, on Halloween night. Heather, who had been living in Oak Creek with her father, came to her mom's Racine apartment for the evening. With a bit of makeup and a pair of devil horns, Heather accompanied her half brother, Danny, 10, trick-or-treating. She waited at the curb unless Danny came back with a report of peanut butter cups. At those houses, Heather raced to the door, eager to collect some of her favorite candy.

Although she had moved out of her mother's place about two years earlier, Heather still spent many weekends in Racine with Miller and Miller's live-in boyfriend, Don Johnson. Whether she was riding helmet-less on the back of Johnson's motorcycle - a Suzuki dubbed the "Hardly Davidson" - or strolling through a store with her mother, Heather needed to be noticed.

"She was like her own little personal celebrity," her mother said.

Heather wore a stud in her nose, and the color of her hair changed often. She was prone to randomly running up to her friends and relatives, hugging them, and bursting out, "I love you!" Almost as often, she pointed out cute boys and shouted her admiration.

Johnson was teaching Heather to drive, and he recalled her aversion to stop signs.

"Heather, you've got to stop!" he yelled after she ran one.

"Why?" she asked innocently. "We stopped back there."

School was merely OK, except for gym class, which was horrible.

"Why does it matter if I can climb a wall?" she once asked her mother. "Unless I'm planning to escape from school, I don't need it."

Lately, the computer was Heather's "I.V. to life," her mother said.

Heather and Arielle both attended Oak Creek High School. Their parents believe Heather, a freshman, and Arielle, a junior, met online.

Arielle's mother told police that Arielle really needed a friend. She met Heather just a week or two before the girls died, the girls' parents and other friends said.

Arielle's parents had been in the midst of a bitter divorce. Then, in late September, there was a falling-out between Arielle and her two best friends, one from elementary school and one from middle school.

One of her two friends from childhood lived near the tracks and had a fascination with them that Arielle grew to share, David Daniel said. It was probably his daughter's idea to take Heather there to shoot photos, he said.

Before life tears us apart, let death bless me with you

- "Join Me in Death," HIM

The day before Arielle died, she and her boyfriend sat on the same railroad tracks, he told the Oak Creek police. They lingered on the third track, which she told him trains never used. The couple, who had gotten together over the summer, had a serious talk. Arielle was worried that something had changed in their relationship, that perhaps he was seeing someone else. He didn't kiss her as much as he used to, she complained.

Arielle's boyfriend grabbed her by the shoulders, telling her she was the only one for him. They hugged for a long time.

Then they walked and talked some more. Arielle talked about getting a job and saving some money so she could move out of Wisconsin once she finished school. Maybe she would move to San Francisco. He told Arielle that wherever she went, he wanted to go with her. She seemed to like that idea, he told police. Arielle's boyfriend declined to be interviewed for this article.

Arielle, her boyfriend and her mother, Kristin Daniel, went to pick up Heather later that evening.

At first, when Heather had told her dad she wanted to sleep over at Arielle's, they got into an argument, the police reports say. Don Bates didn't feel he knew enough about Arielle. He finally agreed to let Heather go, but only if Arielle's mother would come over and meet him first.

Kristin Daniel chatted briefly with Bates, as the kids waited in the car. She dropped Arielle's boyfriend off at his house. Then she stopped at Pick 'n Save for potato chips, cookies and Butterfinger bars.

Heather and Arielle stayed up until 1 a.m. watching the screwball comedy "Meatballs." In the morning, after a breakfast of Honey Nut Cheerios, they told Arielle's mother they were going out to take pictures.

"They walked out the door. (Arielle) said she wanted to go to McDonald's when she got back," Kristin Daniel said. "That's the last I saw of her."

Oak Creek police recovered five images from the digital camera found at the scene, similar in mood to those posted earlier on their Web sites. Arielle, standing on the tracks, her black hood pulled tight around her face. Heather, sitting on the same tracks, smoking a cigarette. In another photo, Heather grips a rail on the tracks, smirking at the camera. The final two photos are close-ups of the friends together, presumably taken by Heather, at arm's length.

Train number 334 left Milwaukee about 10:50 a.m. carrying about 100 passengers to Chicago. It was traveling about 75 mph on the Canadian Pacific Railway near 800 W. Drexel Ave. when engineer Steven Woods saw the girls standing near the tracks ahead. According to police reports, he blew the train's horn, and then, about a quarter-mile from the girls, began braking. As the train came even closer, and the girls stepped toward the train, Woods activated the emergency brake and shouted, "Emergency! Emergency! Emergency!" When the train struck the girls, it had slowed to 36 mph.

Woods, who did not return telephone calls for this story, told investigators that when he first saw the girls, they were facing each other between two sets of tracks. As he approached, he felt confident that he would not hit them.

But as the train came closer, one girl, believed to be Arielle, turned and faced him. Heather walked in front of her. They both walked smoothly toward the tracks.

The world is a cruel place, and we're here only to lose

- "Join Me in Death," HIM

At the scene, the medical examiner could say only that the victims were two females, probably between ages 14 and 20. The impact had destroyed their features and flung the shoes from their feet. A memory card in a camera found nearby was labeled with Don Bates' name, leading authorities to Heather's father.

Oak Creek police Detective Andre Antreassian visited Bates at 4:30 that afternoon. An hour into the interview, the telephone rang. Kristin Daniel was looking for Arielle. Bates handed the officer the phone, and Daniel's panic grew. She said she could not safely drive until someone assured her that her daughter was all right. No one would.

Instead, the officer sent a squad car to pick her up at a gas station, where she had stopped to use a pay phone, one of many stops she said she made that day in search of her daughter.

As the investigation progressed, officers learned about the death a few years ago of Heather's grandmother, found in the bathtub after taking pills. They also learned that Heather had reported being sexually assaulted a month earlier outside an Oak Creek High School football game. Three of Heather's classmates mentioned worrisome conversations during the preceding week.

The most telling was during math class, where Heather reportedly told another student she was going to kill herself over the weekend.

The girl told Heather she didn't believe her.

According to the police report, Heather replied: "If you don't believe me, say goodbye to me today."

Oak Creek police Lt. John Edwards said Heather's reported comments support the conclusion that she committed suicide.

"She made a statement to a person saying she was going to kill herself, plain and simple, and said it was going to happen this weekend," Edwards said. "That can't be discounted, and it's hard to refute."

But her closest friends said they never heard Heather talk about suicide.

"She was loved by everybody," said Alayna Benoit, 15. "You would never see her walking alone."

The same day Heather reportedly made suicidal comments to kids at school, she made plans for the weekend. Jessica Immonen, 14, said she and Heather planned to meet up on Saturday afternoon to attend Jessica's cousin's wedding.

"It's hard to believe," Jessica said of Heather's death. "It's out of reach. She was the best friend I ever had. I just want people to know she wasn't suicidal."

David Daniel insists that his daughter also planned on coming back from the railroad tracks that day. She and her mother were going to stop at McDonald's, then go visit her grandfather. She also had plans to see her boyfriend the next day. They were going to have dinner with his mother.

"I think that they were screwing around by the train," David Daniel said. "It was a combination of a prank and maybe a stunt and more of a thrill, stunt prank. 'Maybe we'll be hanging around and freak people out.' "

Perhaps the girls were on the side of the train preparing to take photos of people in the windows, Arielle's father surmised. Arielle and her friends liked to do that in the backseat of his car as they passed by other vehicles, "like a practical joke."

On a Sunday in December, nearly a month after their daughter's death, David and Kristin Daniel attended a support group for parents of deceased children, called Compassionate Friends.

At first, they didn't realize Heather's parents were there, too. When they did, they shared their sorrow.

They also shared the same belief about how their daughters died.

"She was not an unhappy or depressed child," Kristin Daniel said. "She had all these dreams of becoming someone famous."

"I'll never know what Heather was thinking, but I'll never believe it was suicide," Miller echoed.

Nearly every day, Miller logs onto her daughter's home page, chatting about the insignificant moments of life, just as she used to do. As she types, she harbors the hope that Heather will respond, telling her mother and the world that she didn't commit suicide.

Inevitably, a simple date near the top of the screen brings her back to reality: 11/11/2005.

"I look at the last date she signed in," Miller says, "And I start breaking down."

From the Jan. 22, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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