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For Victims' Families, Relief Accompanies Grief

Heartened by the sniper suspects' capture, relatives find it difficult to forget their losses.

October 25, 2002|Elizabeth Shogren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — For the families of the sniper attack victims, news that the suspected killers were captured was bittersweet.

"They're sad and happy," said Larry Gaffigan, who knew two of the victims and is the coordinator of a fund to help the families of all 13 victims. "They're still grieving for their losses, and they're happy for families who don't have to go through what they've been through."

"They're thanking God and asking Americans to continue to pray for them," said Gregory Wims, founder of a group that helps victims' relatives, after speaking with most of the families Thursday.

Phone calls to the families of the victims went unanswered, or representatives of the families said that the victims' relatives were not ready to talk publicly.

The family of Linda Franklin, the FBI employee who was killed as she stood next to her husband in a Home Depot parking lot in Falls Church, Va., expressed relief in a written statement.

"The Franklin family is heartened to learn of the arrest of two men in connection with the sniper case," the statement said. "If in fact these are the two responsible for these terrible crimes, it pleases us to know they are off the street and are no longer posing a threat to the community."

The victims' families and their supporters expressed hope that Americans would offer respect to the victims rather than focus on their grim deaths and suspected killers.

"The events of the past day will help bring to a close this ugly chapter in our lives," Linda Franklin's family said. "It is time for our family, our community and our nation to come together, remember those who were lost and move on with our lives."

Those who wish to help may contribute to a fund to aid all 13 families or to several memorial funds set up for individual victims who were killed. (A toll-free number, [888] 726-9200, has been established for information on donations.)

So far, $35,000 has been donated to the group fund organized by the Victims Rights Foundation, a Maryland group founded by Wims six years ago to help survivors of violent crime. The money will be divided equally among the families, and none will be used for administrative costs, organizers said.

"Now is the time to honor the victims and take attention away from this monster," said Gaffigan, who is volunteering as a coordinator for the foundation and acting as an informal spokesman.

Carlos Cruz and his wife, Sarah Ramos, one of the early victims, left good jobs and a comfortable lifestyle in El Salvador to move to the United States, where she thought life provided more opportunity for their son.

Cruz has been so upset that their 7-year-old son sleeps with him to console him, Gaffigan said.

Wims said he worried that the boy, who had not yet cried about his mother's death, was taking on too much.

The 3-year-old daughter of another victim, Laurie Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, apparently did not yet understand that her mother will not return, Wims said. He spent a whole day with the toddler and her father this week, and "she asked for her mother several times," Wims said.

The father of James "Sonny" Buchanan wants his son remembered as a volunteer mentor to children. His son was a longtime volunteer and board member of the Boys & Girls Club in Washington's Maryland suburbs.

The co-workers of Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, a co-founder of a business designed to boost African American business, pledged to honor him by making his company more successful.

As the suspects were arrested and arraigned, hundreds of people were gathered at a hotel in Kearnersville, N.C., for the annual convention of MATAH, the company Bridges founded. MATAH is a wholesale and retail distributor that carries 200 products made by African Americans.

In his honor, the distributors at the convention pledged to "double, triple and quadruple" their sales, said Al Wellington, co-founder and CEO of MATAH. "That's how we're taking this tragedy and turning it into a good."

In addition to helping the families cope, Wims and Gaffigan have their own grieving to do. Wims and Buchanan served together on the board of the Boys & Girls Club.

Gaffigan knew two of the victims: Ramos was his maid, and James Martin, 55, was a close friend.

Gaffigan said he was relieved when the suspects were taken into custody, because it meant that the families of the victims would be able to face the alleged killers in court.

For his own part, Gaffigan said, "I try to remember my faith, which has been really difficult to do. I'm just glad to see him off the streets."

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