-- There is a Beware of Dog sign on the door of the old frame house at
the east end of Pearl St., a house that has its porch light constantly
on during the daylight hours, but appears virtually boarded up with all
its curtains closed and its blinds drawn.
The door is knocked, but no dog barks, and no one answers. And so the caller leaves.
Hours later, the caller makes a telephone call first, and waits along a side lane.
The phone can be heard ringing inside the old frame house, and ringing
for the longest time. But finally it stops, and a voice comes on the
"Henry Danninger?" the person is asked.
"Yes," he says.
"This is opportunity knocking," he is told. "An opportunity for you to
express any remorse you might have for knifing Andy Moffitt to death,
to tell your side of the story as to what happened that night, and to
explain to the Moffitt family why you kept postponing the scheduled
parole hearings that put them through so much misery."
The line goes quiet.
"I've got nothing to say," Danninger politely says.
The next morning, another attempt at contact is made.
This time Henry Danninger's mother, Gisela, answers the phone somewhere
inside that old frame house, and she is reminded as well that
opportunity rarely knocks twice.
"No comment," she says, repeatedly.
And then, like her son before her, she too hangs up.
Last month, when it was written here that Henry Danninger was about to
be released after serving two thirds of a five-year sentence for the
second-degree murder of University of Ottawa engineering student Andy
Moffitt -- himself a Brockville boy, as fate would have it -- there
were few who felt any sympathy for the drug dealer who sent him to his
grave at the tragically young age of 23.
Moffitt, after all, was an innocent
bystander celebrating the end of exams who stepped in to mediate a fray
at an Ottawa tavern in December, 1998, and was rewarded for his bravery
with a knife in the heart as Danninger set out to settle a score with a
roommate who had stolen his drug cache.
The fact that Moffitt's actions ended up
earning him the Governor General's Award for Bravery did nothing
towards bringing him back to life, which is why a new candle was lit by
his graveside the other day at Brockville's St. Francis Xavier
Cemetery, a short 4.5 km from Danninger's home.
There was, however, one writer who
disagreed with my portrayal of Henry Danninger as a drug dealer and a
"thug," and who believed my column on his release was unfair.
"Would it not have been interesting to do
a real story on Henry, and the events of that night, instead of such a
sensational and stereotypical one?" the person had asked in that
letter, but not before describing Danninger as "just a typical kid" --
he was, by the by, 25 at the time he knifed Andy Moffitt -- and
"published poet" who, during one-on-ones, was "always thoughtful and
However, subsequent correspondence with
this person ended with the person pulling out of the mix, despite the
person having a connection of value.
"I did not write to you with the intent of
being quoted or publicly exposed for giving you my opinion," the person
wrote, adding in a subsequent e-mail that "you have a history, in my
opinion, of biased reporting regarding Danninger so I have to assume
you will use my words out of context and will embarrass me."
It was that letter, however, which made me
promise that I would knock on Henry Danninger's door when the occasion
eventually presented itself, and it was a promise kept.
Henry Danninger, however, would not buy in, and neither would his mother.
And nor, it turns out, would the only person who wrote to complain about the spin on the Danninger story.
So much for opportunity knocking. So much for the "real" story.
With something ventured but nothing gained, we pull away from
Danninger's house, head east down Pearl, turn left on Beecher, travel
east down Highway 2, turn right on the Lyn Road, and then left into St.
Francis Xavier Cemetery.
My father's grave is there; and my younger brother's.
And so, too, is the grave of Andy Moffitt.
It is, in fact, the only grave in sight with a small Canadian flag
flying next to the tombstone, and certainly the only one with a plastic
container filled with candles, as well as a lighter -- with the
handwriting atop the box matching the handwriting of the many letters I
have received over the last few years from Andy Moffitt's mother,
"Light a candle for Andy," read the words written atop a lantern-like lamp.
And so I did.