A man is scheduled to be executed soon for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a girl in a Tempe apartment complex more than a quarter-century ago. (See related story.)

For many of us who lived in the Valley at the time of the senseless incident, the victim’s name, Christy Ann Fornoff, is remembered almost instantaneously, recalling a time when an entire community was sickened, its faith and innocence shattered. For thousands of parents, Fornoff — killed on May 9, 1984, five days after her 13th birthday — could have been their son or daughter.

For many more children, including me, she could have been them.

At the time, Fornoff was a student at Connolly Middle School; I attended nearby Fees Intermediate School. Both fed into Marcos de Niza High School, where I attended with some of Fornoff’s former Connolly classmates. Fornoff was collecting payments for her newspaper route when she was abducted; I often helped out or filled in for a friend on his route.

Maybe those similarities are the biggest reason I have never forgotten Fornoff’s name. Or it could be the picture of her that was on the front page of every paper and led every television newscast for days.

Life in the Valley was much different then; the Phoenix metro area was less than half of its current population of 4.1 million. There were big-city crime realities, for sure, but nothing that held the attention of the entire area — particularly during the two days she was missing. Ask anyone who remembers: Fornoff’s disappearance and death was a big, big story.

Donald Beaty, the maintenance supervisor at the apartment complex where Fornoff disappeared, said he found her body behind a trash Dumpster. Ten days later, he was arrested for the murder and is slated to be executed on May 25.

People were outraged and disgusted — but most of all, scared.

“There was a sense of fear; it was pervading everything,” Peter DeCindis, a teacher at Connolly at the time of the murder, told the Tribune in 2004. “Every little kid was looking over their shoulder coming home. Parents coming to pick up their kids — no one was going to let their kid walk home.”

I lived the first nine years of my life in Indiana. On weekend and summer days, I, my sister, cousins and friends were often our own child care, heading off to play wherever in the mornings and not expected back home until dinner time. Our safety was not given a second thought.

Today, I will not let my boys go to the park behind our Gilbert home without them being in my line of sight.

After Fornoff’s death, more adults began handling newspaper routes, with each day’s edition more likely to be tossed into a driveway from a moving car than an over-the-shoulder bag. And technology has enabled billing to be conducted electronically, not door-to-door.

No, what happened to Fornoff did not result in all this. Her death was simply a symptom of an evolving society.

Through it all, life has gone on.

No Connolly teachers were available for recollection; a Tempe Elementary School District spokeswoman said that all of the faculty at the school when Fornoff died have retired or moved on. Harry Mitchell, then the mayor of Tempe who wrote a letter of condolence to the Fornoff family, declined an interview request through a spokesman. Even Fornoff’s parents, Carol and Roger, no longer live in Tempe.

But for myself and many others, Christy Ann Fornoff will live on in our memories, a name and face associated with tragedy and times changing.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6301 or dzeiger@evtrib.com

(6) comments

Elisabeth Ansley

Another lesson that was learned from her kidnapping was that the police need to respond immediately to reports of missing children. In the case of Christy she may have been saved if the police had started searching as soon as her mother reported her missing. They did not. In fact they came to school and interviewed ME. They asked me where she would have gone. They asked if she had a favorite hang out, would she have gone to an arcade?. I kept thinking "we are only 13, we don't "hang out" anywhere we just go home after school. Christy came from a large, strong christian family and they had only recently moved to Tempe from Rochester NY. I felt like they were asking crazy questions that didn't apply to this little, blond, innocent girl that i knew. They were clearly grasping at straws. If they had immediately searched the apartment complex and stayed there searching they may have found her in time.

Elisabeth Ansley

I was also at School with Christy. What is often not reported is Christy only moved to Connolly three months before her death. Prior to that she was a 7th grader at Mckemy Jr. High in Tempe for the first 6 months of School.

i had 7 classes with Christy at Mckemy and some wonderful memories of her. For example she was such a petite girl. I remember when she got new tennis shoes for PE. She graduated from a size one to a size two. She played French horn in the "Tiger Band" and I played clarinet. When we had a substitute teacher she and I would switch instruments just to be mischievous.

I still have her school picture with her handwriting signed Friends Forever. Donald Beaty took away that opportunity for us but her memories and the lessons for myself and own daughters (now the same age she was at her death) are with me always.

amylynnglor

Christy was a school friend of mine during a too-brief period of time immediately before her murder.
My family had just moved to Tempe from Ohio. I was a seventh grader at Connolly Jr. High and my locker was just a few doors down from Christy's. The move had not been easy on me. I was having real trouble adjusting and making friends.
Christy was one of the few people who was kind to me. She helped me find my way through the hallways, lent me pens (I lost them -- she never minded.), and was always quick with a genuine smile. I have a feeling that, given the chance, she and I might have become real friends.
Christy's murder DEVESTATED our school. It was never the same. Tempe has never been the same. It was just so... senseless. As a community, I don't think we ever really found closure. We could never wrap our minds around WHY. We could never really get past the random unfairness of it all.
I still can't drive past that apartment complex without having a pit in my stomach, (Frankly, I wish they'd tear it down.), and I never pass Christy's house without saying a prayer for the Fornoffs.
Perhaps the only glimmer of good in the whole story is how close our class became -- and has remained to this day.
It's not at all a stretch to say that we're one of the most close-knit groups in Tempe history. We had to be. It was the only way any of us was going to be OK.
Although (of course) we wish it had never happened, losing Christy was a big part of what inspired us to hold each other close. Many, many, many of us still live in Tempe. Those who don't visit often & stay in touch. We get together. Once a year we even have a mini-reunion, just to catch up. We know, on a very deep level, not to take our friendships for granted.
To that end, Christy's Connolly friends are holding a vigil for the Fornoff family on Tuesday, May 24. I wish with all my heart that I could be there. But more than that, I wish there was no need to hold a vigil in the first place.
We all still miss you, Christy. You were one of the very best among us.
And to the Connolly class of '85 -- Please know that I am there with you on Tuesday more than at any other time. I love you all.

evtrib

What part of Arizona gun law do you think applies to this situation VofReason?

VofReason

Sadly, I believe the fact the murderer was not killed quickly as retribution for his crime, leads people to believe that doing crimes doesn't have consequenses. This is why it is good that the State has the gun laws it does.

boobear

After all these years I still remembered her name immediately. It seemed her death shook the innocence of the Valley. What a shame that what seemed a rare occurrence then is just another day in the news today. Too bad with all our progress over the years the mental stability of society has quickly eroded. From a parent, thank you for remembering Christy.

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