The Story of Claire and Imette

By Gamal Hennessy

Imagine this; you and your friend go out for drinks. You both succeed in getting very drunk. At 3:30 the two of you leave the bar. But she isn’t ready to go home. She wants to hit another spot. You playfully argue with her in the loud, slurred tones that drunks argue in and neighbors complain about. Finally you agree to disagree and separate. You get into a cab and watch her stumble down the street towards the next bar. You shake your head and laugh at her. You go home, go to sleep and wake up with a hangover.

A few days later, you find out that your friend was abducted, beaten, raped, murdered and dumped on the side of a road in Brooklyn. Your friend is dead and the image of her walking away haunts you for years.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an imaginary story. Imette St. Guillen was murdered in 2006 after she left a bar called the Falls. When the trial of the suspected killer started this week, her friend Claire testified to watching Imette walk away after failing to convince her to get into the cab. It was the last time she saw her friend alive.

This tragedy raises a question for natives; what can we do and how far can we go to keep our friends safe?

I tend to overanalyze things, so there are principles I follow when I go out with a girl. When it’s time for me to go home I do one of four things; I put her in a cab heading to her place, I leave her with her friends, I take her to her place or take her to mine. If I don’t go home with her, I ask her to call or text me when she gets home to let me know she’s OK. I feel like if I follow this principal, the young lady won’t spend the night tied up. (Now if she likes being tied up, that’s different. I can do that for her, but that is another story and not the point of this post.)

The problem is that my principal does not guarantee her safety. She can get out of the cab or walk away from her friends. She might meet Justin Timberlake at the bar and will actively get rid of me to prevent inadvertent cockblocking. We must remember that nightlife is a playground for adults. As an adult, she is free to go where she wants to go, even if she’s blind drunk. Our playground has potential dangers, just like any other playground. There is no guarantee that she or any of us will live to see another bar. My principal reduces the risk, but it doesn’t eliminate it. Nothing can.

Twenty four million people go out in New York every year and violent crime and death are extremely rare. Ms. St. Guillen fell victim to an isolated but fatal combination of insanity, oversight and error. Her death isn’t something we would wish on anyone, but her circumstances were not that uncommon. How many times have you lost track of your friends after they were amazingly intoxicated?

Everything turns out fine most of the time. There is no realistic way to force someone to do what they don’t want to do. There are no neat answers on how to protect our people. Having said that, I still think it helps to at least try and keep an eye on our friends when we’re out at night. We’re all big boys and girls, but the extra effort is worth it. I don’t want to pick up the phone and get the call Claire got.

Have fun.