CURWENSVILLE — One year ago today, Tammy Seaburn’s quiet, unassuming life turned into a virtual living nightmare.
On the evening of of March 1, 2017, she was told that her 22-year-old daughter and only child had been killed from a single gunshot wound in Clarion County where the young woman was in the midst of her last semester at Clarion University.
Katrina was shot in the chest with a handgun around 5:30 that evening in the parking area of Hartzell Trailer Court just off Lake Lucy Road in Washington Township, Clarion County.
Damien Lawrence Ditz, now 22, of 24 E. 8th Ave., Clarion, was charged by Marienville-based State Police with criminal homicide, two felony counts of aggravated assault, two counts of misdemeanor simple assault and misdemeanor recklessly endangering another person.
Ditz, who had a long on-again, off-again relationship with the victim, is currently lodged in Clarion County Jail without bail, awaiting trial.
And it is the wait for justice that compounds Seaburn’s pain of losing her daughter.
“My whole year since losing Katrina has been wait,” Seaburn said over hot tea in a personal interview at Ethan’s Cafe in Clearfield. “Wait, wait, and wait some more. I have been taught so much patience.”
Seaburn said she is torn between frustration and knowing the legal system takes time. And it is time that is preventing her from bringing some kind of closure to losing Katrina.
“It has been a nightmare,” Seaburn said, trying to control tears as she spoke about the tragic event. “For the first four months after it happened, (police) had been saying the shooting was an accident. But we all knew it wasn’t. I lived that nightmare, thinking Katrina wouldn’t get justice because (police) kept saying it was an accident.
“When Damien confessed, I had to relive it all over again,” Seaburn said. “Knowing that he confessed to killing my daughter . . . it was horrible all over again.”
Seaburn said three things have kept her going as she continues to live the nighmare: Family and friends, the community, and her faith.
“I thanked the Lord for Him getting Damien to admit the truth,” Seaburn said. “The Lord’s hands were in it.”
Seaburn said adding to the nightmare is the defense team trying to obtain information from her and Katrina’s friends.
“Damien and his family lawyered up and (the defense team) got private investigators to call me and Katrina’s friends, asking about her relationship with Damien. I understand that is part of their job – but it just keeps the nightmare going.”
Adam Bishop of Bishop Law in Pittsburgh is representing Ditz.
Since having homicide charges bound over to court, the most recent court activity was Bishop filing a motions to suppress statements that Ditz made to state police troopers both at the scene, in the hours after the incident, and at subsequent interviews at the barracks.
A Clarion County judge ruled on Feb. 8 that the suppression Bishop was requesting was denied, and all confession statements will be allowed at trial.
“(Ditz) would have ended up with involuntary manslaughter if the statements hadn’t been allowed,” Seaburn said. “God had His hand in that, too.”
A pre-trial conference has been scheduled in Clarion County Court on March 14, where the District Attorney’s office and the defense meet, discuss what each side will bring to the table at trial, and possibly discuss a plea bargain to avoid a jury trial.
Seaburn said she is torn about the possibility of a plea by Ditz rather than a trial — which she admits will be emotionally challenging.
“Again, it is reliving the nightmare,” Seaburn said. “Part of me doesn’t want to go through (a trial), but the other part wants to make sure Katrina gets justice.”
One thing that bothers Seaburn is the D.A.’s office presenting a plea offer to her, but being allowed to see the supporting evidence to justify a deal for the defense.
“I think I should be offered the evidence to see what we have to go to trial before I have to make that decision,” Seaburn said. “But the way the laws are, I am not allowed to see any of that evidence. I can’t listen to the audiotapes of his interviews with police. I can’t see the autopsy report on my own daughter. How can I make a decision? I am just in limbo.”
She said she is fully aware that the justice system takes time, and she will have to be patient if she wants to see justice served.
“But as a victim, you should not have to suffer through the system,” Seaburn said. “It just destroys you. This is where you need your family, your friends, your community and your church — to give you the strength to get through the day.”
Seaburn, who is divorced from Katrina’s father, Tom Seaburn, raised her daughter in the community of Curwensville as a single mother. Seaburn admits that she raised her daughter in a strict manner.
“Katrina knew what was expected of her,” Seaburn said. Her daughter was a Class of 2013 honor student at Curwensville Area Jr./Sr. High School where she excelled in sports — basketball, volleyball and softball — and was a Progressland Athlete of the Week. She was also a champion baton twirler, winning both team and individual titles at the local, regional, state and international levels. She was a feature twirler for the Golden Tide in grades 10 through 12, and then took her love of twirling to Clarion University where she was a member of the majorette line for four years, and majorette captain for three.
But being separated from her daughter during her college years kept Seaburn unable to keep a thumb on her daughter’s private life.
“The last semester, I knew something was off,” Seaburn said of the volatile relationship between Katrina and Ditz, who had an unstable relationship. “The abuse by Ditz had been going on, and I didn’t know.” Seaburn said several of Katrina’s college friends have filled in the blanks on what had been going on in her daughter’s life.
“Katrina’s friends said small things happened at first, and that built up over the years,” Seaburn said. “And she wouldn’t tell me.”
Seaburn said she had met Ditz in the past, and something inside told her she didn’t like the young man. But her daughter saw something in him that made her invest herself into the tumultuous relationship.
“Katrina thought she could fix him,” Seaburn said. “I have found out that is common with victims of domestic violence. The victim thinks they can change the abuser.”
Seaburn said her daughter finally had enough, and broke up the relationship with Ditz the weekend prior to the shooting.
“I knew she was done with him,” Seaburn said. “But he owed her money. A lot of money. And she wanted it back.”
Ditz admitted to police that the two were arguing over money when the shooting occurred.
“It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how talented you are, or how rich you are,” Seaburn said. “If you are being abused physically or emotionally, or know someone who is, seek help. You can’t do it on your own.”
That is the message Seaburn has been preaching as she uses her grief and Katrina’s story to speak about domestic violence. She has become a public speaker, telling her daughter’s story in an effort to save someone else from living her nightmare.
“I gave a small speech at a memorial basketball game held at Curwensville High School,” Seaburn said. “I have spoken at Clarion’s Take Back the Night, where I tell her story. Domestic violence is so secretive, and it can take someone’s life. As a society, we need to strive for zero tolerance.”
Seaburn said she had no idea how Katrina had affected the lives of so many people during her short life.
“I was not aware of the impact she had on so many people,” Seaburn said. “I never realized.”
She has received hundreds, if not thousands, of notes and social media messages from people who said Katrina had touched their life in some way, shape or form.
“I got notes from Titusville School District, whose indoor twirling team she coached. Her band fraternity at Clarion has been absolutely amazing.
“The amount of support I have received from the little town of Curwensville is astonishing. So many people have helped me and touched my life,” Seaburn added.
“I don’t know how anyone could go through losing a child without the outpouring of love from the community,” Seaburn continued.
That outpouring of love has included numerous fundraisers for the Katrina Seaburn Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will provide two $500 scholarships to deserving high school seniors this year. To qualify for the scholarship, the senior must be a two-year member of National Honor Society, an athlete, and a member of the band or choir, receiving a two-year letter in either the sport or band.
A ‘Katrina’s Memorial Travels’ Facebook page was created to allow people to “take Katrina with them” on vacations and other travels.
Seaburn and Katrina’s close friends gave buckets full of rocks with Katrina’s name and dates painted on them.
“We asked people to take these rocks and if they are on vacation or somewhere and they think of Katrina, to leave the rock there, take a picture of it, and post it on the Facebook page,” Seaburn said.
“It’s for everybody who knew her and everyone can see her memory traveling all over the world.
“Katrina’s memory will never die. She is an angel now. She is with us and working through so many people and at so many events.”
For now, Seaburn is getting through each day one at a time, and has welcomed her sister, Shelley Shimmel, as her housemate.
“We will continue to wait, and pray,” Seaburn said. “I am praying so hard for closure, so that I can get this nightmare to end.”