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Our phone rang about 2:00 a.m. that morning; I knew a call that time of day was probably not good news. The call was from my sister. She told me someone broke into my parents’ home and shot my dad. I lost my father on Valentine’s Day in 1984, at the hand of a convicted felon with a gun.

My parents moved after I graduated from high school to restore a Victorian home near downtown Des Moines. The whole family worked on that old house, and when my boyfriend and I got engaged, we it thought it would be the perfect place to get married.  My parents scrambled to get the house ready for the wedding and for my father to walk me down the stairs.

In February 1984, we spent a lovely Sunday afternoon with my parents. I had an 18 month old daughter by then. She had just started calling my dad, “G’pa” and they must have scaled the staircase four or five times while she practiced her climbing skills.  Dad was patient and played along, as grandpas do. Before we left that day, my sister took a picture of my parents and my daughter. It would be the last picture of my father.

Two days later, I received the fateful phone call from my sister. Two intruders broke open the back door to the house and came up the steps where my daughter had just played a few days before.  My mom woke up first as the men ransacked the bedroom. She alerted my dad; he jumped out of bed and tackled one of the intruders, telling them to get out of the house. One of them turned and shot him as they ran out.  

The two men were eventually arrested, but because of very little physical evidence, they were only charged with second-degree murder. The man who shot my dad was already a convicted felon and was awaiting trial for an armed robbery. The gun was borrowed from a friend. After a plea deal, neither of the men served their full prison terms.  

My dad’s murder left the community shocked and our family changed forever. The intruders did not find jewels and valuables. But they took something that my family cherished – a loving husband, father, and grandfather. My daughter does not remember her grandfather. He never met my two younger children. I wish they could have known him. He would have loved them so.

My dad was killed 35 years ago. I share my story now because it is time for action. It is time for common-sense gun laws. It is time for more thorough background checks. It is time to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons.  It is time for safer schools and neighborhoods because our lives and the lives of our children are more important than more guns.

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