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Victims' Hopes, Dreams Snuffed Out by Sniper's Fire

Families and friends remember their loved ones as unique, caring people who made contributions to their communities.

October 13, 2002|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

Kenneth H. Bridges saw his job as a calling, and it kept him on the road a lot -- sometimes more than his family wanted.

Bridges, 53, was the entrepreneur who co-founded Matah Network, a distribution network designed to strengthen African Americans by getting them to buy products from black manufacturers. Friends called him charismatic, and neighbors said he was one of the kindest people they knew.

A former Amway distributor, Bridges attended the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia. Five years ago, he founded the Matah Network.

He was an advocate of government reparations to black Americans. He believed that by buying products built by other African Americans, blacks were giving themselves "internal reparations."

He lived with his wife and six children in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Germantown. Bridges was in Virginia on Friday for a meeting with officials of Dudley Products, which makes cosmetics and personal care products.

At 9:30 a.m. Bridges was shot and killed by the sniper as he pumped gas in Fredericksburg, only moments after he had talked to his wife by phone.

On Saturday, Matah's Web site was flooded with messages of sadness and sympathy.

"I am still in shock. He was truly an African warrior," wrote Doris Oluremi Person.


James L. "Sonny" Buchanan Jr. was the son of a police officer and he inherited some of a policeman's sense of community service. The 39-year-old Buchanan had long been active in the area's Boys and Girls Club, had mentored young people, and had worked with a Crime Solvers hotline.

Friends knew the landscaper for his many personal kindnesses. He was forever dropping off gifts, they said, teaching young people how to grow plants and offering encouragement. George Jones III, 21, whom Buchanan worked with in the Boys and Girls Club, recalled at Buchanan's funeral how Buchanan had "never tried to be a father figure. He was always just a friend."

Buchanan had roots in Washington's Maryland suburbs, where he had gone to high school and the University of Maryland before opening a successful landscaping business. This year, he sold that business to help his father build a dream house in rural Virginia.

He believed in keeping commitments, and he had come back to Maryland to cut the grass of a former customer when he was killed. His father, James Buchanan Sr., had taught his son that those less well-off always deserved help. "He literally took that to heart," Buchanan said.


Premkumar A. Walekar left India for the United States at age 18, looking for a better life. He never accepted all the ways of his adopted land, and he planned to move back soon to a house he had purchased in India.

A soft-spoken man, Walekar, 54, attended Montgomery College, a large community college that has been a first step for tens of thousands of immigrants moving to the Washington area. Walekar got a job working for a magazine distributor and held a second job as a steakhouse cook.

He allowed his mother to arrange a marriage for him to an Indian woman named Margaret. He fell in love with her when he saw her picture, he told friends; they were married two days after they met.

Premkumar and Margaret moved to the outer suburb of Olney, Md., where they had two children, Andrew, 23, and Andrea, 24. They were his joy. After he retired from the magazine business, Walekar began driving a cab. He had recently begun trying to arrange his daughter's marriage, and as soon as he finished that task, he planned to move with his wife back to India.

Instead, he was shot and killed as he pumped gas into his cab in Rockville, Md., last week. "Those cruel hands ended his life like a snap," his brother-in-law, Lazarus Borge, said at his funeral.


Sarah Ramos, 34, had finished one year of law school in El Salvador when she emigrated to the United States with her husband, Carlos. The move meant that her husband, a professor who speaks little English, would be at least temporarily unemployed, and that her earnings as a nanny and housecleaner would support the family.

Ramos and her husband hoped for a better life in the Maryland suburbs. And they hoped for a good education for their son, Carlos Jr., 7, who attends elementary school in Silver Spring, Md.

A deeply religious woman, Ramos prayed that God would take care of her young family. But it wasn't always easy. They didn't have enough money to buy a car.

Ramos was resting on a bench near Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, reading a book and waiting for a ride to work, when she was shot and killed.

Her parents came from El Salvador for her funeral. Respecting her wishes, they did not bring her home to El Salvador, but buried her in the land where she hoped to find happiness.


The Washington suburbs were a new world for Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera when she moved from her childhood home in Mountain Home, Idaho, six years ago. But she was determined to make a go of her life and her new role as a nanny, a job she had wanted even as a teenager.

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