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3 Victims, Linked Only by the Randomness of Violence

In the aftermath of the sniper shootings, families and friends seek to cope with their losses.

October 27, 2002|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- They had little in common except for the ordinariness of their errands in Maryland and Virginia. Now they are joined in history, victims of a suburban sniper who terrorized a region and frightened a nation.

Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was vacuuming Cheerios out of the back of her van at a Shell station. Premkumar A. Walekar was pumping gas so he could begin his daily run as a cabby, while Dean Harold Meyers was buying gasoline before heading home after a long day as an engineer.

In a shooting spree that lasted three weeks and left 10 dead and three injured, Walekar was victim No. 3, Lewis-Rivera was No. 5 and Meyers was No. 9. In the aftermath, with two suspects in custody, families and friends of the three are seeking ways to cope with their losses. They are remembering their loved ones not for how they died, but for how they lived.

Lewis-Rivera was everyone's favorite nanny, an Idaho girl who married a Honduran immigrant. Walekar emigrated from India to ensure that his two children would have the opportunities he wished for himself. Meyers was wounded in Vietnam, the recipient of a Purple Heart.

"There has been so much focus on how they died, but each one has a story," said Jeff Carter, pastor at the Church of the Brethren in Manassas, Va., where Meyers worshiped. "They reflect different ribbons of humanity. They are of different ages, different professions, different socioeconomic backgrounds, a smattering of America."

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Dean Harold Meyers served with Company B, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Division. On March 8, 1970, he volunteered for a reconnaissance mission in Phouc Vinh, north of Saigon.

He was hit in the left arm, above the elbow. Doctors removed tendons from his wrist to reconfigure his arm but told him he would be permanently disabled. Within a year he was playing basketball, riding his motorcycle and back home with his family in rural Pennsylvania, enrolling at Penn State University.

There was a girl back then, and they were sweet on each other, but Dean's brother Greg recalled that she wanted to marry a minister. Dean was a Christian and a churchgoer, but he wanted to be an engineer. Something about the profession appealed -- the attention to detail, the problem-solving.

He adored children, and war buddies recalled that even in Vietnam, whenever they returned to base, local kids would greet him. They knew that he saved candies or trinkets for them.

He died at 53 a bachelor, a doting uncle to his nine nephews and two nieces. He took them to Boston's Fenway Park for baseball games, offered rides in his classic Corvette, always sent birthday cards and brought Christmas presents. When they visited him in Washington, he often took them to the Smithsonian Institution, sharing his love of history. "All the kids were really special to him," his brother Greg said.

An outdoorsy type, Meyers liked to jog, play tennis and canoe. He rarely spent money on himself. He bought his manual Canon AE-1 camera secondhand, and even his cars -- perhaps his only indulgence -- were hardly extravagant. The 1990 white Isuzu Trooper had logged 172,000 miles, the gray Mazda Protege, which he was fueling when he died, was nothing fancy.

But his family was surprised to learn after his death the extent of Dean Meyers' charities. They were unaware that he had for years sponsored several children from the ages of 5 to 18 through World Vision, an international Christian humanitarian organization. They learned that he had turned down $1 million for serving as executor of a friend's will, saying the fee was excessive.

Sometimes at the office he wore a cowboy hat, but colleagues knew him as anything but a cowboy. "His death really shook the office up," said Gary Kirkbride, branch manager for the Dewberry & Davis firm in Manassas where Meyers worked. "It wasn't just that it was shocking, period. It was shocking that it would happen to Dean. There isn't a more likable, gentle soul in the office."

He never talked about his war injury, which left ugly scars, or much about the war in Vietnam. But in 1972, amid the wrenching passions stoked by the antiwar movement, he wrote an essay that reads now like a coda for more recent traumas.

"The American dream has not soured over the years," he wrote. "Perhaps we have a distorted view of our past history, believing that at one time our nation was virtuous and now is corrupt.... How can we forget we were once a nation under the siege of Civil War.... Once we condoned the buying and selling of a human life? Where was the American dream during those dark years? No, we have not fallen, but rather are rising."

*

Hers was the most prosaic of moments frozen in terror, vacuuming the family van. She had just dropped her 3-year-old daughter off at school, and was running errands before picking up the 5-year-old boy whose family had hired her as a nanny.

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