The only saving grace is that these kinds of tragedies don't happen all that often. But in ways that many other crimes don't--not even other murders--they always give me a chill.
So it was this week when reading that a spurned lover, a 22-year-old man, shot his former girlfriend and her grandfather to death in Santa Ana and then himself. As the police said, "Everything happened very fast."
In a way, these single-minded mini-rampages, fueled by hopelessness and rejection, remind me of the school shootings that have become part of the national fabric. Long after the gunfire has gone silent, a melancholic air hangs over the scene as we anguish over why the troubled, pathetic shooter couldn't see the light before it was too late.
So pointless. So much damage done, and for what? To settle a score? To satisfy some inner demons screaming for revenge? Because someone doesn't understand that you can get over lost or misguided love?
The early reports from the Santa Ana shooting didn't indicate whether the woman, who was also 22, knew she was in danger from her former boyfriend. If she did, she was doubly victimized--first by the fear and then by the final assault.
That's why we need stalking laws. We have them in California, and as long as they're not abused by police or prosecutors, they fill a void in the criminal justice system.
If you put someone in constant fear for their safety--in ways that can be documented and validated by a jury--you're a criminal. Society shouldn't have to wait until you carry out your threat to take you out of play.
Huntington Beach Police Det. Bob Christie hopes that at least one Orange County woman has, perhaps literally, dodged a bullet.
In 1994, Christie handled a stalking case that led to a six-year prison term for a man obsessed with a former girlfriend. Last April, the man was released from the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.
Two months ago, Christie says, he arrested the man again. He is scheduled to stand trial on charges he once again was stalking his former girlfriend, who still lives in Orange County.
'He's Back to His Old Tricks'
I hear in Christie's voice the same resignation I heard six years ago when we discussed the case. "He found out where she lives," Christie says. "He went to her house, followed her to her house, watched her get out of her car, went over to her grandmother's house in Buena Park and left a threatening letter. He's back to his old tricks."
The man was originally charged with violating a 10-year restraining order that forbids him from getting anywhere near the woman. Now prosecutors have filed a stalking charge, Christie says.
Christie reads me part of the letter the man allegedly wrote and left at the grandmother's house. It includes passages such as, "I still say I went easy on you, considering what I could have done."
The man makes it clear that even if the woman tries to relocate, he can find her.
"She's thought about leaving, but her family is here," Christie says. "There's still some fight left in that girl. She still has the attitude: 'I haven't done anything wrong; why should I run?' "
Yet the woman is scared, says Christie: "The day he got convicted, she knew he was going to get out and was going to come back. So it's a fear she's been living with.
"It's like a bad dream that won't go away. You know what I mean? Someone can break into your house, but you can replace what you lost; you'll get over it. You get beat up, you get better, the pain goes away. But this is a constant threat: Will he come after me?"
A spokeswoman at the Vacaville prison says she can't discuss what treatment the man might have received during his six years of incarceration.
Christie has moved to the burglary division, but he personally handled the man's arrest this time around too. The two have a history: In letters from prison that I've seen, the man accused Christie of improper conduct in his first arrest.
I ask Christie what he thinks of the man, who remains in custody. "I think he's a total control freak and evil from the standpoint that he knows what he's doing to her, because he threatens her and then disclaims it," Christie says. "I think he enjoys being inside her head and staying there. I wouldn't want to say he's as evil as a rapist or murderer, but--you know what?--he's doing the same stuff, just in a different way."
If convicted, the man could face another six-year term, Christie says. Luckily, he says, most obsessed former suitors stop their bad behaviors on their own. Or a restraining order does the trick.
Yeah, these cases don't happen every day.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821; by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626; or by e-mail at email@example.com.