June 7. 2003--Presentation by Karen Soltero to Victims of Violent Crimes Rally, Valencia, CA
It used to be that I would hear a story on the news or read something in the paper about murder and think, “wow, what a sad story,” and maybe a minute later my mind would be on where to go for lunch or the errands I needed to run. It used to be that a trial was something to watch on TV – either the fictional tales on Law & Order, or the scandals and dramas of celebrities who had gotten in to trouble. It used to be that I had a younger sister who had a life full of adventure and promise. It used to be that I thought those terrible things I read about or saw on TV would never happen to someone like me. This is how it used to be for me.
Then, two and a half years ago, my precious little bubble of invincibility was shattered when a nineteen year old girl, with too much free time and drugs, not nearly enough ethics, and a desire for a some easy cash, shot my sister in the head during a vain attempt to part her and her two friends from their wallets. In the blink of an eye, I was robbed not only of my sister, who was a best friend to me, but of the blissful ignorance I lived in about the horrors that can happen – not just to faceless names in a newspaper, but to anyone, to me.
As the days slip by and the distance grows greater from when I last hugged her and said see you tomorrow, I find that though I move forward, the loss remains a profound part of me, shaping and changing my future and the way I look at the world. How does it happen that some people in this world become so arrogant that if they need money, they just take it from others? That if they don’t want a baby, they kill it or the pregnant mother? That they can fire a gun at someone just because they feel like it? When did we become the decision makers for other people in such a vicious way? Now I find myself faced with the issue of how to make this better, how do we change this pattern?
I think we have to become so much more aware. If something like this hasn’t happened to you, there is no way you can walk in the shoes of someone to whom it has, and I would never wish that on you. But what you can do, is open up your eyes and ears and hearts to the people who have lost a loved one to a violent crime. Listen to the stories and realize that they are not stories at all, but the truth. Listen and realize that these people are just like you. And that each victim has a name, a face, a family, and a life that they were living that was cut short far too early. My sister’s name was Wendy, she had a great big crooked smile and twinkling hazel eyes. Her family had two loving parents and an overprotective sister who she often said was a dork. And she was certain her future would be fabulous.
And don’t be afraid to reach out to those who have lost. We don’t expect you to understand and it is always okay to say “I just don’t know what to say.” And sometimes all we really need is a hug. We need your support. Everyone goes through their grief in a different way and the experience of loss is unique to each individual. For me, it was the loss of not only my sibling – the messy child I had to share a room with, but the loss of the family member I though would be with me until we were old and gray and sitting on a porch together talking about what life was like when we were younger, reminiscing about our parents, and playing aunt to each other’s children. Thankfully I have the support of many friends and family members, though I wish not only for me, but for other siblings, and for anyone who has suffered this trauma for that matter – that we could have a stronger professional programs and organizations.
It is my hope that this tragic continuous increase in violence in our society will eventually turn the corner. I hope that a time comes again, when we can have back that sense of invincibility. Though I don’t know when or if that time will come. And so I don’t want to live today in fear. I simply live it aware. Aware that it can happen to anyone. And that it happened to me.
At the end of our court trial, my parents and I were each given the opportunity to speak to the girl who had taken Wendy’s life. I look back on what I said to her a year ago and find that it rings even truer today. And so, to close, I will take this opportunity to say it to her again:
Wendy did not go quietly into the night. We did not let her. And more importantly, she did not let herself. Her choices and actions and contributions will leave her alive and present for the people who love and miss her. And though I cannot speak for anyone else, I can say this for myself - you took away one of the most precious things in my life, but you did not beat me, you did not break me down. For all the hatred, and pain, and needless suffering that this trial entailed, I am the stronger. You did not steal my ability to love and care and believe. You did not rob me of my hope nor my faith in the good parts of this life. You made my family smaller, and my life is forever changed. But you did not destroy me.
June 7. 2003--Presentation by Beth Soltero to Victims of Violent Crimes Rally, Valencia, CA
I sit at the computer in our daughter’s apartment – it is the evening before this event – I have so much to say and yet I wonder what to say. I look around Karen’s room and try to decide where to start. I am flooded with memories. Above me sits a plaque with the Olympic torch and a picture of Karen carrying it. She nominated Wendy for the honor and carried the torch in her name. What an amazing experience that was for our family and friends. How proud we were of Wendy and inspired by Karen’s inner strength, heart and love for her sister. Pictures of Wendy and Karen and cousins in a wedding. A picture Wendy painted of a girl blowing out a candle – reminds me how fragile life is and wonder if Wendy was thinking that as she painted the picture. Wendy’s “I dream of Jeannie” style incense lamp sitting at Karen’s work station. A wire sculpture Wendy made. A picture of Wendy and Karen in a frame marked, “sisters”. Pieces of the jewelry that Karen is currently creating on the work desk, her dog’s toys scattered throughout the room, and her business work and files surrounding me and so much more.
I pull up our website and look back at my impact statements, I reread some of the messages posted by the girls friends, review the trial updates and still I wonder what I should share with you. Memories of what was, the present and the unknown future.
Hopefully none of you have gone down this path – but probably some of you have – and most certainly some of you will! No one thinks it will happen to them. Why would you? I certainly never agonized over this happening to our family. Oh, I worried about the girls as parents do and worried about their safety – but deep down – I never really believed this would happen! But it did! Wendy was helping friends and was murdered during the course of a random robbery spree. A young female (with a male accomplice) shot her for no known reason – and proceeded on to two additional robberies prior to being caught. They will serve the remainder of their lives in prison.
I believe most people understand and grasp “intellectually” what “victims” go through – but I don’t think people understand “emotionally” what victims go through. By telling you this, it is my hope that I can put a “face” if you will on life after loss from a violent crime. Loss from violence is not the same as loss from illness, old age or accidents. I know. I lost my parents, a niece and our daughter all within ½ years. They are all sad and tragic – but different.
Last weekend, old and dear friends were visiting us in Dallas. Over dinner, my friend said, “I have something to tell you – last February, Peter and I were held up at gunpoint outside a movie theater (located in a “perfectly safe” part of Tulsa)”. They got away, they have not been caught. They didn’t kill anyone that time! She then said, “we didn’t want to tell you – but felt we should”. She said I “visibly jerked” (which I knew that I did) when she told me. She then proceeded to say she was sorry and apologized for telling me. I asked her – why? She said she didn’t want to shock me. I immediately realized something – I was far from shocked. In fact, I realized that I do not think I could be shocked nor can be shocked in the future. I was immediately sad to think that I had possibly come close to losing yet someone else whom I cared about. Also, having always been the eternal optimist, I was not and am not comfortable in the knowledge now that truly nothing will surprise me along these lines again. Peter went on to say that “but it took them 67 years to get me” and I commented – “yes, but THEY GOT YOU”! I am so very thankful nothing more happened to them that evening.
Our daughter (my husband is in Dallas taking care of the house and the boxer puppy) will speak in a few moments. We share the loss of Wendy and our pain is one but different. Siblings, parents, loved ones and friends all walk different paths in the journey through “victims of violence”. I wrote in one of my victim’s impact statements (which can be found on the website) the following: “As hard as I try, I cannot put the words on paper and do know I cannot speak them in court as to what it was like when the doorbell rang and the police officers were standing at our door to bring the news. That is the one place I cannot explain to you, as it is far too painful. Also, the same is true of us calling our other daughter with what happened. The pain is deep, the heart is wounded and jagged, the spirit shaken, joy elusive, laughter difficult, loss immense”. To this moment, all that is still true.
I do not want your pity – I plead for your commitment. I challenge each of you to think about why we are victims and you may be the next victim. Then, go out and make the difficult choices necessary to reduce the number of future victims. Your commitment to do everything you can to reduce senseless violence and the wake it leaves in its path. I will help in any way that I can.
Let me finish with Wendy’s own words that were to conclude the opening chapter of her never-to-be finished fictionalized autobiography and is now inscribed on her headstone: “what I do know is that I will see all of you again, be it in person or in my dreams and all will be well”.