If you live outside of Florida, you may not be familiar with what happened on August 6, 2004. It's a long, complicated story (full press coverage here), but the simple version is that on that night, six young people living in a house in Deltona, Florida were murdered horribly in a bloodbath with baseball bats and knives. Inspired by the film "Wonderland" and allegedly sparked by a dispute over an X-Box game system, the Deltona Massacre is considered to be one of the most horrific crimes in Florida history. Four men are currently on trial for the crime.
Em's involvement in the case is almost as long and complex. I've known Emily Varan for almost thirteen years, since long before either of us embarked on our current careers. Then, we both kids, working together at a local health food store. We stocked shelves of vitamins, washed out bagel bins and got into ice fights at the end of the day.
Today, I'm a writer; today, she's a DNA analyst for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the key to putting these slimeballs away for good.
It's amazing the difference that so many years makes.
Anyway, two years ago no one in the FDLE Orlando DNA section really wanted to own this case. It'd be long and incredibly labor intensive. Whoever took Deltona would be doing only Deltona until it went to trial, which would preclude the bonuses that typically came with a high annual case count. At the same time, it was a career maker-or-breaker: any mistakes, any missteps, any screwup of any kind could destroy the career of whoever took it. At the time, the Deltona Massacre casefile looked like a gigantic, thankless risk.
In late August 2004, Emily Varan marched into her supervisor's office and virtually demanded that she be assigned the Deltona Massacre.
Em's not the type to rest on her laurels, and she recognized that she needed a big challenge to keep growing. So she took personal and professional responsibility for the cornerstone physical evidence in the highest-profile, most violent criminal prosecution case in modern Florida history.
Since then, I've heard a lot of things that I couldn't talk about until now (virtually all of which is now public knowledge). For two years, I've watched my friend navigate this Herculean task, as she hoped desperately that when the big show came, she wouldn't embarrass herself. She was meticulous, going over every detail again and again, anticipating every question and challenge. Meanwhile, the trial got postponed, postponed again, had its venue changed to St. Augustine. Finally, after almost two years, we got word that Deltona would go in July of this year.
This morning, on the trial's fifth day, Emily took the witness stand in St. Augustine to testify on the work she's done over the last two years analyzing the DNA evidence left behind in the Deltona house. She was phenomenal, appropriately appealing to the jury and deflecting every defense issue expertly. (Note: if you'd like to see her in action, links to media coverage can be found at http://www.dna-analyst.com. Look under the Deltona section for the links labeled "Testimony video available".) The way the local Central Florida media is reporting it, Em's work and testimony nailed the coffin shut on this thing.
I've never been prouder of my friend than I am today. The congratulatory calls have been flooding in, the media's in love, prosecution and FDLE are ecstatic, Em's flying around on an adrenaline high. Her career - indeed, her life - has been irrevocably changed by today's events, in ways we can only imagine right now.
The business point? The value of a huge challenge.
Most people play their cards conservatively, avoiding risk in return for the short term benefit. The only way you grow - the only way you truly start reaching success - is by taking the big risks, the ones that take you out past the point of no return. The ones that scare you.
Small challenges build character, but big challenges define character.
For your sake, I hope you're taking great, big ones.