Tierra Verde father got help dealing with murder of daughter

The father carries a manila folder in his briefcase at all times. It bears the name of his daughter's killer. The tab is cracked like worn leather from his thumbing over it the past six years. Inside are four legal pad pages and a torn notebook sheet on which Jeff Froeschle scribbled the different prisons where murderer Jason Funk has settled over the years.

Froeschle traced Funk through facilities in Hendry and Hardee counties, never letting justice escape his view. It's a terrible way to learn the state's geography, the 61-year-old says.

Every day, he lugs the file from his home in Tierra Verde to his office on the 12th floor in downtown St. Petersburg.

Grief for parents of the slain is like no other. Regret and second guessing linger after suicides. Shock reverberates through families after fatal car accidents. But with murder comes all of that, as well as anger and fear. These are feelings that get excavated in court and, in the case of unsolved murders, may never be buried.

The Life Center of the Suncoast, a Tampa counseling agency that recently expanded into Pinellas County, has started a free counseling session for people dealing with losses from murder. Froeschle, now a member of the center's board of directors, understands their struggle. He sought help at the Life Center a few years ago in a more general counseling group.

"It created a safe container for the feelings he had and he wasn't so alone with it," said Sheryle Baker, executive director and a licensed psychotherapist.

The group sessions were no panacea. Froeschle still wrestles with the details of the murder of his 25-year-old daughter, Katrina Froeschle, and how his life changed on Nov. 12, 2004.

• • •

"Katie," as Froeschle calls her, was an insurance adjuster inspecting a storm-damaged roof when Funk invited her into his Sulphur Springs home. He beat her and dumped her body in the Hillsborough River. Funk pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.

"This is all fairly raw," Froeschle said, recounting the aftermath.

But he hopes that, by sharing, other families of homicide victims will see the benefits of joining the new group, rather than dealing with their emotions alone.

"It isn't a perfect transformation process," he said.

For Froeschle, that process started after Katie's funeral, when all the mourners had left and he was alone.

Had he been too self-absorbed in his career as a lawyer? he wondered. Why didn't I do this? Why didn't I do that?

He thought often about having turned down Katie's invitation to dinner when a girlfriend of hers was in town. It was two weeks before her death.

"You look back and you wonder, 'Did she know you really, really loved her?' I don't know. I hope she knew."

Katie once told him that a property owner made her uncomfortable when she inspected his home. Froeschle wishes he had told her then to find another line of work.

He took up boxing to relieve the anxiety. The first time he faced the heavy bag, he unleashed a torrent of punches. The next day, he was sore.

He asked his trainer why he didn't stop him. The trainer said he didn't have the heart to.

Sometimes Froeschle would pretend the bag was Funk's face.

During pretrial proceedings, he bore holes in the defendant until Funk couldn't turn toward him. A victim's advocate held Froeschle's wrist through tough testimony. He sobbed when he was alone.

A year after Katie's death, Froeschle and her mother divorced, which experts say is common after the loss of a child. He wonders if he talked too much about Katie.

Froeschle began carrying a cell phone at all times so his two sons could always reach him.

He recalled an obsessive search for every photo of Katie that existed and scanning them into his computer for preservation. He found 934. He set them all to music from Katie's CD collection until every picture perfectly matched up with songs. It lasted 93 minutes and 40 seconds.

He has watched it just twice all the way through. He put it on at a dinner to benefit the Katie Froeschle Foundation, which he started with Katie's friends to raise money for scholarships and the Life Center. Another time, he made himself watch it on her birthday. He said he will never do that again.

He has locked away a recording of Katie's voice without listening to it. He can't go skiing in Steamboat Springs or scuba diving in Key West.

Not without her. Not yet.

• • •

Despite the pain, Froeschle said he has come a long way because of counseling. He was in a group for people dealing with death for about two years. He talked with parents who lost a daughter in a car accident and mothers who lost their sons to war and a police shooting.

"There's no pain-o-meter that measures it for you," he said, "but the loss of a child is so hard to grasp, so hard to know how to respond, you're just at a loss."

Yet he saw the others surviving, so he knew he could, too.

Before Katie died, he feared public speaking. Now he has spoken to property appraisers at conferences and workshops about taking precautions before home inspections.

"There is probably a part of me that wants to talk about Kate to find something positive out of this tragedy," Froeschle said. "Sometimes I just have to tell this story."

Just last month, he updated the folder in his briefcase when he learned of another prison transfer.

When Froeschle's father died years ago, before Katie's death, he listened repeatedly to the Jackson Browne song For a Dancer.

"I like this song," he had told his daughter. "Let's figure out the lyrics." They spent hours transcribing the words, and Froeschle read them at his father's funeral.

Years later, he found Katie's copy of the lyrics. He passed them out at her funeral.

And somewhere between the time you arrive

And the time you go

May lie a reason you were alive

But you'll never know

It reaffirms that he's living through such a loss for a reason.

"I expect someday I'll know," he said. "Maybe after I'm gone."

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@sptimes.com.

The Life Center

of the Suncoast

The agency has helped more than 60,000 people cope with traumatic experiences over 30 years. It has groups catering to widows, teens, children and adults in general. The center is at 6811 N Central Ave., Tampa. It also offers grief therapy at the Best Life Counseling Center, 10707 66th St. N, Pinellas Park.

The Life Center runs on donations.

The homicide counseling group meets every second and fourth Mondays at 6 p.m. The next meeting is Monday. For information, call (813) 237-3114.

To learn more about the Katie Froeschle Foundation, go to katiefoundation.org.

Tierra Verde father got help dealing with murder of daughter 04/28/11 [Last modified: Sunday, May 8, 2011 3:24pm]

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