One year later, family and friends mourn the loss of Hannah Wilson



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Hannah Wilson as a child. Courtesy Photo and Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

It has been one year since hundreds of mourners convened outside a red and white-roofed house just west of campus.

Her name, Hannah Wilson, rang through the crowd with purpose as one person after another tried to make sense of something totally senseless.

During IU’s 2015 Little 500 weekend, IU senior Hannah Wilson was abducted from her home after friends put her in a cab. Her body was found hours later in a clearing in Brown County, Indiana. The next day, police officers arrested a Bloomington man on the charge of murder. The trial is scheduled to begin in June.

At age 22, without notice or warning, Wilson was violently taken out of the world. A year later, her friends and family are still learning to say goodbye.

***

In the week leading up to the one-year anniversary of Hannah’s murder, Robin Wilson took a few minutes during her work break to talk about her daughter.

Her family is doing well, she said. Robin is still working as a vet and Haley Wilson, Hannah’s younger sister, flourished during her freshman year at IU. Robin said she sometimes feels guilty she hasn’t been immobilized by her grief, especially when she’s remembering a funny Hannah memory and laughing with friends.

Robin and Haley spent the one-year anniversary at their house on Lake Michigan. Robin said last week the family planned on lighting Chinese lanterns and spreading some of Hannah’s ashes over the lake.

“This is what she would have wanted, absolutely,” Robin said. “She would not have wanted any of us to not go on with our lives.”

Hannah would have turned 23 on April 2.

“We’re not going to forget her,” Robin said.

***

On April 2, 1993, Hannah Noel Wilson was born.

A pregnant Robin Wilson came up with her name during a car trip to Chicago. She was reading a John Grisham crime novel and came across a minor character in the book, a young girl named Hannah.

That’s a pretty name, she thought.

Hannah was a child of the ’90s. Her parents caught most of her early life on VCR film. With floaties on each arm, she learned to swim in a pool at Disney World. She went to SeaWorld and held a stuffed Shamu, a fact she would later contest after watching the SeaWorld documentary “Blackfish.”

Hannah was a curious child. She played with the family dog, Jack. She inspected the sand at the beach. She wasn’t scared of Santa Claus.

When Hannah was 4, her sister was born.

“No one asked me if I wanted that,” Hannah said when Haley came home from the hospital.

Even though she had to share camera time with another kid, it didn’t take long for Hannah to become obsessed with being a big sister. When Haley was learning to walk, Hannah skipped through the house, encouraging Haley to tumble behind.

Hannah loved the Indianapolis Zoo. After one visit, Robin let Hannah pick something out of the zoo’s gift shop. Hannah found an elastic choker with a butterfly charm. Robin thought it was a little weird, but she bought it for her daughter anyway.

In elementary school, Hannah’s awkward phase was marked by her round face and short bangs. Every day, Hannah wore the butterfly choker, Robin said.

In middle school, Hannah transformed. She grew a few inches, lost her baby fat and discovered makeup and hair straighteners.

At this age, boys suddenly existed. She didn’t swim with her sister at the pool anymore. Instead, she opted for headphones and suntanning. She lost the choker.

She was highly emotional, her parents said, and she felt things deeply. Her teenage angst became so bad that Robin and Jeff had a family intervention. But through it all, Hannah was still the thoughtful friend and sister.

[Read our special on how Haley Wilson coped with her sister's death through her first semester of college]

***

When Hannah got to IU, she planned on majoring in biology with childhood best friend Anisa Jallal, but switched to psychology after realizing she wasn’t cut out for the hard sciences.

She told Anisa, “You’re the smart one. You have to stick to it.”

Anisa said Hannah was actually really smart, just bad at time management.

As a college freshman, Hannah was still the goofy kid who made everyone laugh. Days before the greek rush process, Hannah was tumbling with her high school cheer friends when she fell and broke her toe. Mortified at the thought of walking from sorority to sorority in a boot, she hid her pain inside a pair of high heels.

Her toe never healed. But she got into Gamma Phi Beta.

Throughout college, Hannah’s nuanced understanding of the world deepened. She dedicated herself to learning about other people and helping them feel comfortable with themselves.

Hannah wanted the rush process to feel fun and inclusive for prospective pledges, so she organized a Dr. Seuss theme for the Gamma Phi welcome skit. She volunteered at IU’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Support Services, and she helped with the annual Cupcakes and Condoms event.

By the end of college, Hannah had begun to feel more comfortable with who she was and where she was going in life.

She realized she wanted to pursue sex therapy as her career. She used her psychology studies to become the Gamma Phi house’s sex therapist. To the best of her abilities, she answered everyone’s embarrassing and awkward sex questions.

***

Many of the Gamma Phi women found out Hannah was missing during the 2015 Little 500 women’s bike race. A few days later, they helped organize a celebration at Kilroy’s Dunnkirk. They played Hannah’s favorite music and watched a slideshow of pictures of Hannah.

In the year that followed, the women have found many ways to celebrate
Hannah’s life.

They made purple and green shirts, Hannah’s favorite colors, with her nickname “Hoondog” printed on the front. The women wore the shirts on the 24th of each month throughout the year.

In September, the women planted a dogwood tree in Hannah’s name outside Gamma Phi. They also dedicated a bench and swing in Hannah’s honor.

On April 17, the Gamma Phi house started two endowments in Hannah’s name with an inaugural fundraising event. The money benefited two causes Hannah cared deeply about: the IU LGBTQ community and Alzheimer’s Disease.

***

A couple of weeks ago, Robin took Haley to see the Long Island Medium in Indianapolis. Thousands of people were in the auditorium, and the Wilson girls didn’t get a chance to ask the medium any questions. But hearing the other stories of tragedy made Robin realize how well she’s doing with her own grieving.

“There were lots of people who have lost loved ones in murders even more horrific than my daughter’s,” she said.

Robin met one of Hannah’s college mentors at the Gamma Phi fundraising event April 17. In that encounter, she knew Hannah had tried to visit her.

The woman was in charge of the Cupcakes and Condoms event. She had brought a pot of Gerber daises with butterfly charms to the Gamma Phi house for the event. Robin saw the flowers and thought the woman was being sweet by displaying Hannah’s favorite things.

After the event, the woman approached Robin and said she wanted to give her the flowers. She said buying them had been the strangest thing; she she didn’t know why, but the flowers and butterflies had spoken to her at the store.

Robin was floored. She asked if the woman had known about Hannah’s love for Gerber daisies and butterflies.

The woman started crying. She said she had no idea.

Hannah’s still around, and watching over her loved ones, Robin said. Robin believes Hannah told the woman to buy the flowers and butterflies.

“One of the things that Haley and I do really well is that we’re open to the fact that their spirit is still with you,” Robin said. “If you are open to believing that, they will send you signs all the time.”

***

As Hannah’s friends and family anticipate this summer’s murder trial, they still mourn the violent loss of their IU senior.

But the past year has shown them that life can go on without Hannah.

“People need to hear that you can go through something absolutely unspeakable, and you can be OK,” Robin said. “You just have to allow yourself to be OK.”

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