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Heather's Closet educates students on teen dating violence

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 12:01 am

Heather Norris, 20, was murdered and dismembered by her boyfriend, Joshua Bean, 23, in 2007. Norris's brutal death sparked Heather's Law, signed by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels on April 12, 2010. The legislation requires the Indiana Department of Education to establish model curriculum for dating violence education in schools.

Cindy Figel and Norris' aunt Joni Kuhns, both of whom work at Bishop Luers High School, have developed a program to help teens get low-cost, gently used gowns for prom and learn about teen dating violence.

Norris and Bean had begun dating Norris's senior year in high school. Bean had beaten Norris six to seven times, Kuhns said, starting in 2005. According to Bean's appeal of his conviction by a jury of murder and abuse of a corpse charges, Norris had shown a friend in 2005 a scratch on her eye and red finger marks on her neck that she said she got when Bean had hit her in the stomach and had put her in a headlock. Then in November 2006, a stranger found Norris on her porch with bleeding scrapes on her arm and Norris told her that her boyfriend had thrown her and her belongings out of the car, according to the court document.

Norris pressed charges and again in December 2006, but Bean had gotten the court date postponed three months. Investigators believe that on April 10 Norris was at Bean's house in Indianapolis when he stabbed her to death. On April 11, According to the court document, he missed a meeting at work and emailed that he was ill and later left a message that he had been attacked and needed stitches. He went to an urgent care clinic with cuts on his hands and arm that he said he got while cleaning up some broken beer bottles. Investigators say he had tried to burn Norris' body in a trashcan in the basement. But that didn't work so he went on April 12 to a local Lowe's where he bought a chainsaw, mop, utility knife and black trash bags. He dismembered the body and then scattered her remains across the city in trash receptacles. What remained of Norris was incinerated along with the trash.

Kuhns said Bean then left the country for Mexico. He returned and that May he confessed his crime to his father and uncle, who turned him in to police. He was given 65 years for murder and three years for abuse of a corpse.

Now, six years later, Kuhns, the athletic treasurer at Luers, is still stunned by the loss of her niece and the senseless brutality of the act. It was shortly after Bean was convicted of the crime that Kuhns began sharing her niece's story with freshmen at Luers during their retreat. In the past year the school changed the structure of the retreat and Kuhns no longer had the opportunity to speak. She was looking for another opportunity to share her story with students when she and Figel, the school's bookstore manager, came up with the idea.

Figel was stunned by the costs of sending a high school daughter to a formal dance. Together they decided it would be a great idea to offer area high school students the chance to learn about teen dating violence and have a chance to buy a low-cost gown at the same time. They called the event Heather's Closet on the suggestion of a friend.

Starting last November they held their first event at Luers. They invited personnel from the Center for Nonviolence to lead the discussion and information session.

“They did a great job; they had students actively participate in the discussion,” Kuhns said.

After school Tuesday, students modeled 105 donated gowns for a catalog the two women are putting together to be distributed around town. They will be holding another teen dating violence information program and gown sale at 6 p.m. March 14. All area high school students are welcome to attend.

Kuhns said she well remembers seeing Norris's friends on the witness stand during Bean's trial. They all have to deal with the guilt of not saying something sooner, Kuhns said. Speaking up about teen dating violence will be the topic for the March event.

Next year they are planning on holding the semi-annual events in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness month and February, which is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. For more information on the event call Joni Kuhns at: 456-1261 during school hours.