Almost 25 years later, murder victim Ann Harrison is a lasting memory

Michael Taylor
Michael Taylor AP

It’s been nearly 25 years since Amy Barrett saw the picture of her shy, sweet friend flash on the television screen.

The breaking news bulletin said Ann Harrison, a girl Barrett had known since sixth grade, was missing. A few days later, the 15-year-old freshman at Raytown South High School was found stabbed to death in the trunk of an abandoned car.

The memories of those confusing and frightening days never have left Barrett.

“I can’t let go of that fear,” she said. “It’s always there.”

Saturday would have been Ann’s 40th birthday.

The rest of the city may remember her as the girl kidnapped from in front of her house while waiting for the school bus.

But to her friends, who have grown into women with careers and children of their own, she is forever in their thoughts as that smiling, pretty, brown-haired girl who loved softball and music.

“Ann deserves to be remembered for the wonderful spirit that she was, and continues to be, for her family, friends and community,” said Tina Thomasee.

Next month, on the anniversary of her death, friends are planning a ceremony to commemorate her life.

And they are waiting to see what happens to one of the two men convicted of killing her — the one who is scheduled to be put to death early Wednesday.

Though news coverage in recent days has centered on the legal challenges surrounding Missouri’s lethal injection procedures and Michael Taylor’s efforts to stay his execution, her friends say it is Ann who should be remembered, not her killers.

“We would rather the world focus on Ann, and who she was, instead of controversies over death penalty drugs and the death penalty itself,” Thomasee said.

Barrett and Ann shared classes. They played on the same softball team, coached by Ann’s father, and they were bandmates. Ann played the flute, and Barrett wonders if Ann would have pursued a career in music.

“She loved playing the flute,” Barrett said. “She was really good.”

Ann’s death was a life-altering event for Barrett and other children who knew her.

“It just wasn’t in my realm of possibility at that age,” she said.

Previously, they rode their bikes around the neighborhood and walked everywhere without worry.

“After that, no more,” she said. “It changed the way I think of the world.”

The mother of two daughters now 12 and 17, Barrett never has allowed them the freedom she enjoyed. Where they go, a parent goes with them.

“What happened to Ann changed me for the rest of my life,” she said.

She said all of those fears that have haunted her rose to the surface again last week with news of the kidnapping and killing of 10-year-old Hailey Owens in Springfield.

Thomasee agreed.

“The recent events in Springfield, along with any other time a child is taken and murdered, continue to remind me of that terrible time 25 years ago,” she said.

Of course, few know what Hailey’s family is going through except people like Ann’s parents and her two younger sisters, now grown with children of their own.

For Bob and Janel Harrison, the loss of their daughter on March 22, 1989, has been exacerbated by the lengthy legal struggle over the fates of her killers, Taylor and Roderick Nunley, both sentenced to death.

They know that whether or not Taylor and Nunley are ultimately put to death, it will have no bearing on the pain that always will be with them.

Still, to them, Taylor and Nunley earned the ultimate punishment for their crimes.

“People talk about closure,” Janel Harrison said. “There’s no such thing as closure. What we want is justice for Ann.”

In Taylor’s case, that justice is scheduled to be meted out at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

Although a flurry of litigation challenging Missouri’s lethal injection protocol, being fought out now in federal court, could delay or halt the execution, it would not be the first time.

In early 2006, Taylor came within hours of being put to death before the courts halted the execution.

In 2010, it was Nunley’s turn. Again he won a last-minute reprieve.

Both times, the Harrisons chose not to witness the execution.

If Taylor is indeed put to death Wednesday, Bob Harrison intends to be be there.

He is not eager to see another man die. Nor does he want to see Taylor’s family if they attend. The Harrisons consider them, too, to be victims.

“They didn’t deserve this to happen to their family,” Bob Harrison said.

The morning Ann disappeared, Bob Harrison was at work and his wife was inside their home when Ann yelled goodbye and stepped out their front door in southeast Kansas City to wait for the school bus.

Nunley, then 24, and Taylor, then 22, who grew up near each other in Kansas City, were binging on crack cocaine and cruising in a car they had stolen in Grandview. They eluded a Lee’s Summit police officer who tried to pull them over for having a broken taillight.

A few hours later, happenstance led them to the street where they saw Ann. One of them got out, grabbed her and forced her into the car. Each has blamed the other.

They drove her to a home in south Kansas City where Nunley’s mother lived. There Ann was raped. Testing of DNA later linked Taylor to the crime. He maintains that Nunley also raped her, though Nunley denied that.

It was then that they decided to kill Ann. Once again, each blames the other for being the aggressor.

They lied to her to get her into the trunk of the car. They told her they were going to call her parents and demand ransom money.

Instead, knives were retrieved from the kitchen. One of them stabbed her in the throat. The other stabbed her in the torso. Taylor’s confession revealed the horror of the moment:

“I stuck her, two or three times, probably four, you know I stuck ’em in the stomach down here, you know,” he told police.

“And then I stayed and watched it, you know. … Her eyes rolled up in her head, and she was sort of like trying to catch her, her breath. She couldn’t breathe, you know.”

What motivates Bob Harrison more than anything to see the case through to the end is the thought of what Ann went through during her last few minutes of life.

“That’s the part I can’t stop thinking about,” he said. “That’s the part that makes them need to have this punishment.”

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