Montana remembers local attorney

The following article was published on July 22, 2013
By Walt Rooney For the Gazette
July 22, 2013

BOZEMAN, Mont. — As the sun rose on the Bridger Mountains on Saturday morning, friends of Annie Rooney gathered at the Nova Cafe in downtown Bozeman.

“Annie was known for her dedication to prosecuting domestic violence cases, cases that were not pursued aggressively prior to her arrival” one of the city’s prosecuting attorneys said in Bozeman. “Annie had dedicated her life to prosecuting these cases in a way that had not been pursued aggressively for the past 10 years.”

Rooney, 36, was killed by a suspected drunken driver in Chillicothe on the night of July 4.

The investigation into the crash on U.S. 50 about a mile west of Slate Mills is ongoing, and no charges have been filed.

Rooney had spent six of her last 10 years in Bozeman, Mont., as a prosecuting attorney, a job through which she affected scores of people in the community. Rooney’s family made the trip from Chillicothe, Columbus and Seattle to Bozeman for a memorial celebration of her life Saturday.

Rooney was drawn to Montana in general, and Bozeman in particular, for stunning mountainous beauty and the spirit of the people, family and friends said.

The friends meeting for breakfast spoke of a culture of adventure, whether skiing the wide-open spaces, biking the Gallatin mountains, or fly-fishing the many rivers that divide the land.

The culture of her network of friends and colleagues embraced the thin air and endless adventure and settled in nightly for community meals in rotating homes — homes filled with characters from all across the country.

Later in the day, as family and friends pulled up to the memorial venue, the Gallatin mountains were still partially covered in snow, the aspens glistened in the afternoon sun, and the ubiquitous smell of pine was everywhere.

Two full school buses were just arriving from Bozeman, filled with friends, colleagues and admirers to celebrate the life of Annie Rooney.

The event commenced with comments from family members and friends, documenting Rooney’s arrival in 2001 as a bison herder at the Flying D Ranch.

Stories shared recalled Rooney’s pursuit of justice for the victims of domestic violence and drunken driving.

They mentioned her ability to take an interest in the safety of the victims, victims who often had no other alternatives for protection.

The people who spoke also mentioned Rooney as someone who yearned to be back with her parents in Chillicothe.

And they mourned letting her leave Bozeman, where at least they felt as if they could protect her from a catastrophe of which she was acutely aware.

Discussions evolved into a yearning to use the justice system to make Bozeman a safer place for its members. Rooney decided to focus on prosecuting domestic violence cases and DUI cases because she felt the victims were so helpless but the crimes ubiquitous.

Story after story presented by Rooney’s friends described her as a person with tremendous moral courage who possessed a deep conviction to serve humanity.

That was all done while wearing clothes that embodied her sense of fashion — a sense that was both eye-catching and hilarious, her friends said.

Friends talked about where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the tragic news.

One just disembarked a plane in San Francisco; one was in a secluded cabin in the mountains of Oregon; one was in Mexico; some were settling in to work July 5.

It was clear that her pursuit of justice was framed with generous words and a kind heart — a heart that helped many in attendance through their difficult times of grief.

Many spoke of a book that influenced Rooney’s understanding of suffering. Victor Frankl, who died in 1997, was a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust and was the author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” first published in 1946.

The book was very meaningful to Rooney, friends said, and she often used what she learned while reading it to urge the victims of domestic violence and DUI drivers to strive for hope and meaning in their lives.

She urged that while suffering the horrific effects that come with being a victim of a crime.

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering” Frankl wrote.

With this in mind, those in attendance vowed to pursue tougher legislation in both Ohio and Montana to lower the catastrophic effects that these crimes have on innocent community members.

Both Bozeman and Chillicothe are smaller communities set in picturesque natural beauty, and both are plagued by these preventable crimes.  Despite its prevalence, drunk driving is a crime, and Ohio and Montana are states that have high per capita drunk driving fatality rates, according to centurycouncil.org.    Ironically, the driver that struck and killed Annie in Chillicothe was a suspected drunk driver.  A driver that, had Annie been able to help pass legislation to keep repeated drunk drivers off of the road – legislation that has been passed in other states, would never have been able to catastrophically end her life.

In Montana and Ohio combined, drunken driving incidents killed almost 400 people in 2011, according to centurycouncil.org.

The author, Walt Rooney, is Annie’s brother.

Link to original article: http://m.chillicothegazette.com/topnews/article?a=2013307210007&f=889

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