This wasn't supposed to happen. Not to Christy, they thought. Not now.
Officer Christy Lynne Hamilton. Killed in the line of duty.
The words tested their faith. The unthinkable had happened and it was easier to deny than accept. "My sister's a survivor. She's always been a survivor," said Los Angeles Firefighter Kenneth Brondell Jr. "I can hear her voice all the time."
For those who loved Christy Hamilton, there was little left to do Wednesday but follow the well-worn rituals that guide people through times of shock and grief. In Van Nuys, a steady stream of police officers filed by the home of Hamilton's father, retired LAPD detective Kenneth Brondell Sr.
In Palm Desert, friends carried casseroles to the home of her mother, Marge Hoffberg, and spoke about how they all loved Christy.
And Wednesday evening, about 10 friends and relatives gathered to remember Hamilton at the Canyon Country home of her brother. Mechanically, they ate sandwiches and watched television news accounts of Hamilton's shooting death at the hands of a troubled teen-ager who shot at police with an assault weapon in suburban Northridge.
"Seeing Christy on TV and all those interviews, it makes it seem like she's still alive," her brother said.
Over five short days, Hamilton's friends and family have endured enough highs and lows to give them a severe case of the emotional bends.
On Friday, she graduated at age 45 from the Police Academy, honored by her peers as the most inspirational member of their class. On Saturday, she thanked her friends and family, singling out each person for special acknowledgment during a speech at a party celebrating her Police Academy graduation. Forty-eight hours later, she was dead.
When Hamilton entered the Police Academy eight months ago, her mother and father bought her gifts that bespoke their own reactions--he gave her a gun, she gave her a bulletproof vest. Her father beamed with pride at his daughter's late career choice. But Hoffberg could not forget the 17 years of fear she lived with when he went to work each day, a fear she blames for the ultimate demise of their marriage.
"I was married to a cop and he was married to the job," she said. "I was always frightened."
But since those days, Hoffberg had learned how to let go. Although she regrets her daughter's decision to become a cop, she accepts it.
"She realized a dream that she had. What can I say? Sure, I'd rather she'd be here with me tonight. But you can't live your children's lives. She did what she had to do," Hoffberg said.
Hamilton was spunky and determined. Born with an intestinal tumor, she barely survived infancy, her mother said. Her parents divorced when she was 15. A marriage at 19 quickly ended. Her second marriage broke up when she went back to school at Cal State Northridge in the late 1980s after raising a family, a responsibility which long postponed her dream of joining the LAPD.
"She was devastated over the breakup of her marriage," Hoffberg said. "She threw herself into the training program of the Police Department. I think what happened was she realized she had lost him and she'd better have a job that would give her some security."
Although often battered and bruised from the physical training, Hamilton never missed a day at the academy. "When she'd get off some of these shifts, she'd be dog tired," Brondell, her brother, recalled.
"She'd have bruises all over her, and she would only have two or three hours' of sleep. I don't think anybody went through that place with more adversity than my sister."
Although she confided to her mother that sometimes she hurt so badly she doubted she'd make it, Hamilton always presented a brave face to her father.
"She told me, 'I wasn't ever the first, but I was never the last,' " he recalled.