People say we have the same laugh.
My Aunt Mary Ellen Welsh was murdered in a home invasion robbery in Connecticut, on March 30, 2008. She was killed by a recent parolee who stole an unsecured handgun from a residence. When his stolen car ran out of gas on Interstate 84, he entered my aunt’s best friend’s neighborhood. He found an unlocked car, slept in it, and the next morning, followed her into Carole’s house. That day, my aunt was in her pajamas to bring leftovers and have coffee with one of her besties. The events that followed are unthinkable and resulted in Carole being shot in the head (she survived) and my aunt being kidnapped and assassinated in a ditch near a rock quarry.
In Maryland, that Sunday was like any other for my family. By 5:30 p.m., I was on a plane to Connecticut to meet with detectives. I appeared in court the following morning (standing close enough to assault the murderer). No one can prepare you for these situations; which side of court room keeps you far from the offender, how speak to the media, how to thank police officers who stood by her body all night long to preserve the crime scene.
There is so much more to my aunt’s life than her death, but unfortunately that is part of tragedies like this. It tries to rip all that is good from your mind and explodes it into a million, tiny pieces of razor-sharp emotion.
My family and the extremely large circle of friends and colleagues of my Aunt Mary Ellen were shocked and devastated. Many people suffered in the wake of this horrible day. Hundreds of people came to pay their respects, many described her as their “best friend.” It shattered our world, our peace of mind. I experienced significant trauma and some PTSD symptoms. My startle response and fear of previously benign circumstances (like parking garages or being home alone) became overwhelming. The seething anger I felt every day ate at my life like a cancer. It took many important people to move me through those troubling times.
My aunt is a brave woman who sacrificed her life to save others. Her perpetrator received a sentence of life without parole, and I know that many potential victims are safe because he will never be released. I am grateful he was caught and convicted and will not harm others, and that we were able to bury our beloved family member. Some families do not get these gifts.
To survive, we had to learn to take the example she set in our lives of love, loyalty, friendship and compassion, and channel that into the healing that will take a lifetime. Some members of my family have done that more successfully than others. We were deeply changed that day. There is no closure. A stolen life remains. The best we can do is focus on her life and find a way to contribute to the good.