Victim Impact Statement
On the night of November 17th, 2018, I sat down on the couch after cleaning up remnants of the day and curled up with a glass of Pinot Noir. It was an awesome day. My son and I had gone to “The Grinch” in the theater, bought Christmas lights for the tree and listened to Christmas music on the way home. We went to the gym in St. Charles and I got him an ice cream cone from A&W for being a good boy. He knew that when the clock showed the 7 o’clock hour, we would watch one episode of Paw Patrol before bed. After we did, I tucked him in with my pink book light clipped to the side of his bed, his Paw Patrol night light shining colorful paws on the ceiling, a touch night light, his glowing iguana named Sheldon, and his soft yellow blankie. After his bedtime routine, I finally got to relax. I had looked at the lock on the front door to make sure the dead bolt was turned the correct way indicating it was locked; it was. I checked to make sure the garage car-door was closed, and the lights were off; they were. I checked to make sure the patio door was locked; it was.
I snuggled on the couch with the cats on my lap and scrolled through my phone. I texted my usual friends and sipped my one glass of wine next to my glowing Christmas tree. Shortly thereafter, I went to bed feeling safe and whole. I was happy.
As a fellow survivor once described, “I was happy while someone was waiting to hurt me.”
At 1:27 am, I woke up to a noise at the end of my bed. A moment later, a gun was pointed at my head and I was being yelled at to not move. Before I knew it, I was lying on my stomach with my wrists zip tied together behind my back so tight; but I could hardly register the pain over the fear that I felt. Over the course of the next five hours, I was raped three times, had my life threatened, had my son’s life threatened, all while uncontrollably shaking and crying in fear after being held hostage in what used to be the comfort of my own home.
How do I describe shaking hysterically for five hours, wondering when it would end and if I’d be alive to see the sun rise? How do I explain how it felt to be held down, tied up, and raped? I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t hide. I couldn’t go anywhere; I had to stay there for my son. I had to stay quiet for my son. How do I explain what it felt like to have my three-year-old child’s life threatened while I was tied up and could physically do nothing about it? How do I explain what it was like to have my child, the one person I would give my life for without hesitation, ask why a man hurt his mommy?
Afterwards, I had to put on one of the biggest acts of my life when my son looked at the marks on my wrists from the zip ties and asked why. How do I describe what it was like to lose my home, my town, my safety, and my security? My life was completely uprooted, and I lost the happiness and light I once had in my soul. I slipped a few important things into my purse, threw on my coat, and took one last look around knowing it might be the last time I’d ever set foot in that house again.
How do I describe how it felt to look at every single man I passed for the next three and a half months wondering if he was the man who raped me, wondering if he was the man looking to kill me? I didn’t want to step outside for fear that someone was watching, listening, waiting – just as the man, whom I now know to be Zane Pederson, had promised. I had to cart my child around in between homes with our belongings packed in a garbage bag and a laundry basket. I had to take $760 worth of HIV prophylaxis medications that could have caused kidney failure, liver issues, and death. I had to take a morning after pill just in case the unknown, masked rapist impregnated me.
How do I explain what it felt like to have my entire life gone through by a group of people I didn’t even know? My house was on display; it was a crime scene. I cried out all my tears, so much that when my heart wanted to cry more, nothing would even come out. I had to sit my son down and explain to him that even though we couldn’t be at our home in St. Charles for Christmas, Santa would still find us.
I’d like to ask if Zane Robert Pederson could even fathom how any of this would feel. Or how he’d react if it happened to his wife, or one of his two daughters – or to himself. I bet he couldn’t imagine it. I bet he also couldn’t imagine that I am a survivor, and I am far stronger than he thought I was. He broke into the home of a warrior.
Thanks to him, I lost a promotion, my house, my car, and my trust in humanity. What was he was thinking when he loaded the clip in his gun that night; the one he held to my head? Did he think at all about his beautiful wife and children? Did he think about how he was in my wedding? Did he honestly think I’d be able to make snow angels with my son in the morning as though nothing had happened?
I was a school nurse for three years. After switching my career to the Mayo Clinic, I was promoted to one of the four charge nurses after 6 months. Less than eighteen months later, against the normal standards of Mayo Clinic Nursing, the department created a position making me the permanent, full-time charge nurse. I am prompt, efficient, ethical, organized, and am strongly supported within my department. I now lack any motivation to continue education in nursing. Instead, I fight with feeling broken, used, abused, damaged, and unworthy. I spend a lot of time in a state of rage that takes so much energy just to tame it enough to get through the day. I’ve put so much time, money, and effort into making sure my son and I can feel safe, but none of that brings back the sense of safety I once had. I will never be who I used to be. But what I do know is that I’ve always been strong enough and smart enough to protect my son. Like a lioness, I will always protect my cub.
I didn’t deserve this, nor did my son. My son now is obsessed with bad guys. It’s a constant reminder that he endured something no child should have to endure or watch his mom suffer through.
I wake up every morning and think about how I almost died in the middle of the night after going to bed feeling safe and sound – back when I was happy. Every day I am grateful just to wake up without a gun in my face. I think of my son and whether he is safe. And then I ask myself why my mind must do this every single morning. Zane Pederson threatened over and over again to murder my three-year-old little boy if I told anyone what he did. So much so that I DIDN’T tell the police. It was five long, painful hours of him threatening me not to – in return for my son’s life. It was my mom who met me at the grocery store that morning after we escaped the house. She called the police (thank God). My mom has endured the toll of being a secondary victim.
If I hadn’t cooperated like I did that night, if I had put up a fight, I would instead probably be a missing person or a murdered person and my innocent little boy would be the same. I have told friends of mine who know Zane, “When he gets out of jail, he will find me and he will kill me.” Not one single person has denied that statement. Even though he’s now living behind bars, I live in fear.
Why me? Why did he target me? How did he find out where I lived? This was obviously premeditated. He had called my ex-husband a few months before and asked, “So you and Dano are officially done now, right?” Was that him getting permission? What did I do to deserve this? He video recorded himself raping me. How many times did he watch that video? How many times did other people watch that video? Was it sold online? How many times were the most private parts of my body exploited on the worst morning of my life?
I can hardly describe how this has affected my family and me. For two years I have been silenced. I had a falling out with my parents. I had a falling out with my sister. I’ve pushed my ex-husband Cody away. I cried myself to sleep and wake up with nightmares that haunt me the rest of the day, but I bottle it up and hide behind my usual smile. I take my rage out on people who do not deserve it. And for that, my friends and family, I am so, so sorry.
Because I am so broken, I keep people at a distance. My soul feels black. Sometimes I cannot control my anger and pain, and it scares me. Hurt people hurt people. Who have I become?
I’m no longer who I was, nor will I ever be that person again. But I must take this and try to make good use of its energy. So, I’m part of the Survivor Advisory Group to the Governor of Minnesota. This year is my second of two terms. I attend a sexual assault support group in Olmsted County, and before COVID-19, I extended the support group on an informal level to be sure my fellow warriors would never feel alone. I am an activist and an advocate and I always will be. It is now who I am.
We’re here today because he found a mistake on a search warrant. A win for him. We’re here today because a plea deal was the “safe route,” vs. trial and because the DNA, the videos he recorded raping me, my shorts found in his truck, and his first statement were all in question due to search warrant technicalities. But I was not high. I was not drunk. I know what he did. It is fixed in my memory. I know my story. I told my story. And it was proven true by the videos he took.
He told his wife he was going on a hunting trip. That wasn’t a lie. He hunted me.
It takes four pounds of pressure to pull the trigger on a 9 mm handgun. I think about this every day. Four measly pounds of pressure could have ended my life when that gun was repeatedly pointed at my head. Four pounds of pressure and I wouldn’t be here today. Four pounds of pressure and I wouldn’t have been there to watch my son go to his first day of kindergarten or see him lose his first tooth. I wouldn’t feel the warmth of his little head on my chest as he listens to my heartbeat, and he wouldn’t have me to lay my head on his. Doing this is our proof to each other that we survived and we’re still alive.
It was extremely tough for me to sit down and finalize this statement. I have avoided it until the last minute, because this statement will never be final. I’ll never fully heal, never get over this, never forget. Today as I near the end of this statement, know that this is not the end. This is not where my broken soul heals. But it is the start of a new chapter and my mission to advocate for other survivors who have endured rape and sexual violence.
So here we are. He wears a mask, and I am shaking – just like the last time he saw me. But today I am shaking for new reasons, with a new energy. As Dr. Maya Angelou says, “…you may kill me with your hatefulness. But still, like air, I’ll rise. I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
Your honor, Zane Pederson’s sentence is my sentence too. His sentence is my son’s sentence. While we’re already in hiding as much as we can be, I don’t know what we’re going to do when he’s out. It’s been a countdown to get to being here today. But it only starts a new countdown – until he is released from prison.
994 out of 1000 rapists walk free. Please don’t let him be one of them.
Danielle Louise Leukam