Local News

State schools official dies after attack

Posted March 9, 2010 6:16 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2010 7:07 p.m. EST

— A member of the state Board of Education died Tuesday afternoon, three days after she was assaulted in a Raleigh home, her family said in a statement.

Kathy Taft, 62, had been on life-support at WakeMed's intensive care unit, suffering from a severe head injury, since Saturday.

Raleigh police prematurely reported Taft's death Tuesday morning, but they retracted that report. Her family then issued a statement shortly before 1 p.m. to confirm her death.

"Kathy loved life, her family, her friends and her many public service endeavors. She would want her colleagues and friends to redouble their efforts in those good works," the statement said.

Police haven't released many details of their investigation since Taft, who lives in Greenville, was found Saturday morning inside the home at 2710 Cartier Drive, near Oberlin Road and Glenwood Avenue.

Taft was staying at the home while the owner was out of town, according to friends. John Geil, who is listed as the owner of the house, was in Florida when the attack occurred but has since returned. The pair had dated in the past and were still friends, according to relatives.

A close family friend said Taft had a minor surgical procedure and was staying at Geil's home while she recovered. Taft's sister, who also was staying in the home, went to wake her for breakfast Saturday and found that she had been attacked.

Police haven't determined if the assault was a random act of violence.

Some nearby residents have said a secluded path in the woods that runs directly behind the home might have attracted a criminal element, but other neighbors said Tuesday that they don't think that's the case.

"We haven't ever had any problems or anything like that at all. It's the first I've heard of anything over this way," resident Joe Andrews said. "It's another senseless death. There's just no sense it."

Investigators with the Greenville Police Department said they don't have a record of any threat or conflict involving Taft. Greenville police said they aren't involved in Raleigh's investigation.

Taft's family offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

A memorial service is planned at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Greenville on Sunday. The time of the service hadn't been set as of Tuesday evening.

Friends, colleagues shocked by death

Besides serving on the state school board for 15 years – she had the longest tenure of any current member – Taft also ran for state Senate in 2008.

“I have known Kathy Taft as a dear friend for more than 25 years," Gov. Beverly Perdue said in a statement. "The kindness she showed me, as a fellow woman from down east working to make a difference, is something I will never forget.

"Her passion for education and for finding every opportunity to better serve North Carolina’s children has clearly made this state a better place to live and raise a family. For that, we all owe Kathy a debt of gratitude. I will miss her terribly,” Perdue said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said she was stunned by Taft's death and the mystery surrounding it.

"It's unbelievable that someone could do such a horrible crime to someone who has been our friend and who has been a member of our family for so long," Atkinson said. "When she first joined the Board of Education, I recognized her energy and concern and commitment to all students in our state."

Brad Crone, who ran Taft's unsuccessful Senate campaign, said he was in shock about her death.

"It is a story that you really have a hard time believing that it could happen," Crone said. "She was ... a visionary leader, a tireless, dogged supporter of public education in North Carolina."

Harvey Wooten, who grew up with Taft in Greenville and was one of her neighbors, called her death "gut-wrenching," noting that Taft championed many causes and loved the community she served.

"I am not sure it's really hit me yet," Wooten said. "She got things done. She cared deeply about what she did."

Bill and Mary McConnell, Taft's next-door neighbors and long-time friends, said she loved riding her bike and having her grandchildren over to play. Taft had four children and five grandchildren.

"It's just hard to put into words how many people's lives will be affected by her not being in it," Mary McConnell said.

The McConnells said Taft had no known enemies.

"I don't know of anybody that would have any kind of disagreement like that, to that extent of taking her life," Bill McConnell said.

"It has really made all of us feel more vulnerable," Mary McConnell said.

Anyone with information that might help police detectives is asked to call Raleigh Crime Stoppers at 919-834-HELP. The number is staffed throughout day, and Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information that helps solve the case.

"A horrific crime was committed. The best of the best are working on this case, and they're going to catch the person who did it," Crone said.

"This person must be caught and must be dealt with, but I can't imagine anyone wanting to harm sweet Kathy Taft," Wooten said.

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