Piper Streyle's daughter documents her journey following infamous 1996 murder
Shaina Fertig was 3 years old when Robert Leroy Anderson came to their Canistota, South Dakota, home.
SIOUX FALLS — The brain protects us.
It tells us to run for safety.
It urges us to hide from danger.
It makes us fight when all else fails.
And when bad things happen, when trauma and unimaginable pain invade the brain, it wipes away the memory in a biological act of self-preservation.
But that doesn’t last forever and eventually the brain, and the body, must heal.
That’s why Shaina Fertig wrote a “A Call to Remember: The Girl Who Wouldn’t Testify and the Woman Who Will.”
“I hit this moment where I could no longer ignore the past,” Fertig said.
Fertig’s past is familiar to Sioux Fallsians even if her name is not. She is the daughter of Piper Streyle, who on July 29, 1996, was kidnapped and murdered by Robert Leroy Anderson.
Fertig, now 30 years old and living in Wyoming, doesn’t remember anything from the morning her mother was taken, or for a few years after that.
Court documents tell it in vivid detail.
'A mean man'
She was 3 years old, living in Canistota, about 25 miles west of Sioux Falls, with her parents and little brother.
A chubby man wearing jeans and a baseball cap came to the door.
Fertig later told police that “a mean man” had come into the house. That there was yelling and a gunshot. Streyle told the children to run.
Fertig never saw her mother again.
Anderson was later convicted of kidnapping and murdering Streyle, 28, as well as Larisa Dumansky, a 29-year-old Ukrainian immigrant.
He was sentenced to death and eventually killed himself in prison, in 2003.
Sioux Fallsians watched as detail after gruesome detail was presented during the investigation, trial and sentencing.
More than 25 years on, the story is still familiar.
Fertig only knows what she's read and been told.
“From the moment my mom was taken, my little brain couldn’t handle it,” Fertig said during a phone interview. “So you go into denial. There are a couple years where I don’t have a lot of memories. It’s probably the trauma.”
In that state, it’s not surprising that the little girl, who’d faced her mother’s killer, retreated into her brain, unable to process the shock.
During the trial, prosecutors tried to get her to testify. She believes it was through video or a closed circuit system, rather than in person.
When the time came, she couldn’t do it.
“What is written is that I hid under my blanket and didn’t want to testify, I didn't want to talk about it,” she said. “I always wish I could go back and testify, but that little girl just couldn't, and that’s OK.”
In the end, it wasn’t necessary to convict Anderson.
'I didn't grow up motherless'
That lack of memory “feels like a grace,” Fertig said.
“I have a lot of nightmares, obviously that’s part of the PTSD for me. As a kid I had horrible nightmares, usually it was just me trying to find my mom.”
Which isn’t to say that her childhood was miserable. It wasn’t.
Her father, Vance Streyle, eventually remarried and Fertig said she always felt like she had “two moms.”
“I didn’t grow up motherless,” she said.
“A Call to Remember” is not a true crime recollection.
It’s Fertig's journey from that point on.
“The rest of my childhood was really great,” she said. “That part of the book is talking about how I had a wonderful childhood. Woven in there are memories and thoughts that you are continually pushing away and locked away in that little girl.”
Growing up in Sioux Falls and then graduating from Roosevelt High School, the fact that she was Piper Streyle’s daughter would come up. Teachers would recognize her name, parents would tell kids and she’d tell friends once they were close.
'Stop pushing back on the past'
She tried to tell the story. Beginning in fourth grade, then at times afterward, including a speech to the Rotary Club in high school.
But it was never right.
It was never the true expression of the grief and pain that a child feels. Fertig knows now that wasn’t possible because she hadn’t started to heal, let alone be in a place to express what it was she experienced.
The story at 10 years old — or 15 or 20 — was merely an expression of anger from a heartbroken little girl.
Then she hit a breaking point after returning from three months in Africa on a mission trip.
She was depressed and couldn’t acclimate to life back in the United States. A series of panic attacks culminated in what she calls a PTSD episode.
“I had a flashback to my mother’s kidnapping,” she said. “It was God’s way of saying, hey let’s heal this, let’s stop pushing back on the past, let’s move on into the future.”
That was the moment when she decided to seek counseling to deal with the trauma. After a couple years, she began to feel like the right words were coming to talk about her life. She started journaling and revisiting childhood memories.
She asked lots of questions and sifted through old photos.
Then an outline took shape.
And then the writing.
“I finally had the words,” Fertig said. “I finally was healed so I could see it more clearly and see what God was teaching me through it.”
'We are all humans'
There have been, and will be, milestones that rekindle memories. Fertig was 28 when she got married, the same age as her mother when she died.
Her father, Vance Streyle, and his wife, Angie, live in Colorado.
Fertig's husband, Royce, works in his family’s construction business in Cheyenne. Their daughter, Elora, is 1 year old.
Fertig knows Elora's 4th birthday will be difficult, as she looks at that little girl, her little girl and reflects on her own life.
But she’s ready for any potential flashbacks or panic attacks.
“The whole point of this book is so people realize we are all humans,” she said. “We all have those things we are dragging along, and we don’t have to.”