While Dawn Koons is a murder victim, to family and friends, she was so much more.
Jan. 12, 1979, was the last day Koons was seen alive. She was found dead the next day. Forty years later, her murderer and rapist, Prentice Foreman, was brought to justice.
Foreman, 61, was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years to life in prison for first-degree murder. Even with his arrest, conviction and sentencing, the family and friends of Koons are still without her lively, loving and spunky personality some 40 years later.
"To me, there is nothing," said David Koons, Dawn's older brother. "The only thing that’s changed is that he gets to live the rest of his life in prison. But we’re still short a loved one."
This story isn't about Foreman, however. It's about Dawn — about who she was and her 18 years of life, and the legacy, stories and memories she's left behind.
‘THE LIGHT OF OUR FAMILY’
Dawn Ellen Koons was born on April 27, 1960, in Yonkers, N.Y., to a loving, caring and selfless mother, Dorris, and father, Leland. She was born 11 months after her "Irish twin," David. Leland, her younger brother, or "little Lee," was the baby of the family, and Dawn "seemed very devoted to him," David said.
"My sister was the light of our family," David said. "From the time she was a child, she was remarkable — not only for her beauty but for her intelligence and her essence."
The close-knit family of five had many traditions, mostly centered around holidays and spending time with their grandmother.
Dawn attended St. Mark's Lutheran School in Yonkers until eighth grade, and then Lincoln High School. But she "was bored with education," David said, and didn't graduate. Instead, she became interested in modeling.
"She was very pretty, and she probably knew it," said Diane Braun, one of Dawn's friends from back home.
Koons and Braun met at a pool that connected Dawn's grandparents' apartment complex to Braun's. Braun was getting ready to start high school after suffering the loss of her mother, and Dawn stepped into a "big sister" role.
"She was really good to me," Braun said. "Very protective."
Dawn, who was a few years older than Braun, introduced Braun to her friends in high school and "took (Braun) under her wing."
Dawn spent many summer nights sleeping over at Braun's apartment — they would cook, bake and listen to music. They would also take the train from Yonkers to New York City and go shopping together.
Dawn decided to move to Bakersfield in 1978 where her boyfriend at the time, Steve Scherle, was living. But Dawn was also at a point in her life where she didn't know what she wanted to do, Braun said.
"She was looking to find herself and maybe needed some newness," Braun said.
Scherle said Dawn had aspirations of going back to school in California and making something of her life.
"She was the girl that would do everything, she wanted to have this great life," Scherle said. "She wanted it. She had a lot of ambition. She wanted to get ahead."
While the two didn't stay together after arriving Bakersfield, they remained close and checked on each other often.
"We were high school sweethearts for sure," Scherle said. "She was my first love without a doubt."
40 YEARS LATER
While Dawn was admired for her beauty, she was also admired for her character.
"She was thoughtful, she was kind," David Koons said. "She was not admired just for her beauty but also for her personality, her sparkle and her intelligence."
David also described Dawn as "very precocious and intelligent," but "that's not to say she wasn’t a pistol and didn’t push the envelope sometimes."
Despite the good and the heartwarming memories from Dawn's 18 years, David, along with other family members and friends, still struggle with coming to grips with her death.
"The grief and the disbelief that you feel for something that seems so surreal, it just never goes away," David said. "(Foreman) had the opportunity to be free and to make a life for himself, to be happy, to have a relationship, to pursue a career that he was passionate about, to celebrate birthdays and holidays, to be with family.
"All of that was taken away from my sister and her family."
Michael Banten, Dawn's cousin, said the hardest part is missing holidays and major life moments.
"All the special events is when you really miss them," Banten said. "We were a close family. Not affluent, but always together."
Scherle, Braun and the Koons family all paid attention to the murder trial. Scherle even testified in the trial after he was cleared as a suspect "for being the ex-boyfriend who did it," he said.
Scherle, who now lives in Florida, wishes he would have been able "to say something directly to (Foreman)" at the sentencing. But, because of recent hip surgery, he couldn't make it to Bakersfield.
While Foreman, 61, will spend at least the next 25 years in prison, David said he was "kind of appalled" by the sentence, pointing out it won't bring Dawn back.
Dana S. Kinnison, Foreman's attorney, was unable to comment on the sentence due to a gag order in the case.
Foreman's sister, Phyllis Willis, said Foreman will be appealing the conviction. She also told The Californian that her heart went out to the Koons family, and that her family has suffered during the process as well.
Braun, who kept in touch with Dawn until her death, still has letters Koons wrote her 40 years later in which she dreamed of Braun's future visits to Bakersfield — visits that never happened.
"Dawn’s never really been gone," Banten said. "She’s still here with us."
With that, family and friends of Dawn Ellen Koons, born April 27, 1960, and whose short life ended Jan. 13, 1979, have just 18 years of memories of the gregarious, kind, spunky, and devoted young woman they all knew and loved.
"We did a lot of living in 18 years, and then we didn’t get to continue," David said.