After 23 years of working in the news biz, there are plenty of things you get a bit hardened to.
Families and loved ones left behind by violent crime are not among them.
On Monday morning, photojournalist Bob Crippa and I went to a press conference with a bit of intrigue; The Departments of Public Safety and Corrections were unveiling a set of 'Cold Case Cards', the standard four suits featuring 52 unsolved cases from the past 50 years. These cases were culled from Sheriffs and Police Chiefs across Minnesota, homicides, missing persons, and unidentified remains that stood out in their minds as cases worth solving.
The theory is, you hand the cards out to inmates across the state, appeal to their conscience, and hopefully jailhouse 'insider information' will surface and solve a crime or two.
At the presser, along with department heads and law enforcement types, was a small army of people representing two families, connected to two people featured in the 'cold case cards'.
Rita Reker and her husband lost two daughters to a violent murder in 1974. Their daughters Mary and Susan were found in a St. Cloud gravel pit; at ages 12 and 15, they had been stabbed to death. Their smiling faces look out from the two of hearts.
Pam DeKok came with her husband, siblings, grandchildren and great grandchildren to remember Georgia Smith. At age 77, suffering from heart problems and what was thought to be early onset alzheimers, she climbed in her car after a family gathering and left for the family cabin in Minong, Wisconin. The year was 1999... they haven't seen her since that day. Georgia is the 8 of hearts in the Cold Case deck.
I have been very fortunate in my life, to meet people like the Rekers and the family of Georgia Smith. They have suffered losses that are unexpected, unimagineable, undeserved... suffered them with dignity, hope, and humanity. They actually thank people like Bob and me for coming to an event like this one, and spending an hour or so... simply because 30 seconds to two minutes of airtime may lead to a tip or breakthrough that could bring them some well-deserved peace. The sincere gratitude they show is humbling, and considering their circumstances and all they've been through, unwarranted.
Look in their eyes, shake their hands and you feel a combination of strength and weariness, as if they have been carrying part of the world around on their shoulders. Waking every day, and going to bed at night, wishing only to know why their loved one was taken so abruptly, so violently, so soon.
The word 'closure' is often tossed around when discussing cold cases. I maintain there is no such thing. There isn't a butterfly bandage or stitches strong enough to close a wound like losing a child, a parent, a lifelong friend. The void left in lives and communities never really heals.
And yet life 'does' go on. A number of years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet a tough, humorous, sentimental Irishman by the name of Jim Lym. Jim and his wife Joanie lost their son Michael when he was murdered while driving a cab, an occupation that truly was his life's work. Mike was killed and left to die on a cold winter night, all for a couple of bucks.
Jim turned his sadness into a mission; he became a national leader in Parents of Murdered Children (PMOC), easing the grief of people who had been thrust into a club 'no one' wanted to join. He and a handful of friends would regularly venture into Minnesota's maximum security prisons, meeting in discussion groups with convicted murderers and rapists, sharing their stories in hopes of triggering feelings of remorse, and helping to rehabilitate these men. As Jim said to me a number of times, "They will get out some day".
The lesson I learned from Jim is that optimism and hope truly can rise above the darker side of humanity. That doesn't mean that hurt ever goes away; you just learn to live with it.
(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)