This week I became a crime victim. It was a minor crime and, although a hassle, caused no lasting ill effects.
Tim and I attended an event over the weekend in Oklahoma. Before leaving Monday morning, we discovered someone had stolen the rear license plate from our car while it was parked at the motel.
We filed a police report, Tim transferred the front plate to the back of the car for our drive home, and I spent about half the day Tuesday getting replacement plates.
An inconvenience, but not a major problem.
That’s not the case for all too many crime victims. During my years as a reporter, I witnessed the effect serious crimes had on many families.
My own family is no exception. On June 20, 1989, my cousin Shirley lost her beloved only child, Angela Lyn Fortner. I know Shirley and many other family members have suffered daily because of Angie’s murder. And each time her killer, Bret Alan Arbuckle, comes up for parole the wound opens anew.
This week Shirley told me she and her husband, Paul, will have to confront this pain again during a parole hearing Nov. 3. Arbuckle was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life, and armed criminal action, with a 30-year sentence.
I never knew Angie as well as I did my Oklahoma cousins’ children, but enjoyed watching her play with them as she was growing up, during our annual Memorial Day family reunions. I saw her brighten the lives of my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Bill. She lived next door and was at their house on old Route 66 often.
She was only 17 when she died, looking forward to her senior year at Miller High School in Missouri. She hoped to become a psychologist, because she enjoyed helping friends with their problems.
Angie had an active childhood, taking twirling, clogging, violin and piano lessons. She participated in the youth group at her small community church. She played in the band, loved to water ski and camp at the lake with her grandparents. An animal lover, she had a cat and a white rabbit.
And she loved spending time with other teens. That’s what she was doing the night of her death. She and two girlfriends were camping on the banks of Billy Creek, about three miles from her home. They were near one friend’s house, just a few hundred yards away. Other teens joined the fun.
Everything was going well when Arbuckle, who was 23 at the time, showed up uninvited. He told the group he was intoxicated. Before shooting Angie, he waved a gun at other young people, vandalized the campsite and threatened to rape the other two girls.
A frightened Angie left with her boyfriend and drove toward Angie’s home. Just before arriving there, she told him they needed to return to the campsite so she could check on her friends and get her pickup. She couldn’t find the keys and asked Arbuckle if he had them. Arbuckle pulled her from the pickup, grabbed her in a headlock, pointed the gun at her throat and pulled the trigger. The bullet severed an artery and she bled to death.
Her death left a permanent hole in her mother’s heart, as it did that of her father, the late Joe Fortner; Aunt Virginia and Uncle Bill; and many other family members. Her father and grandparents died knowing her killer remained behind bars. Shirley has made it her mission to see that he stays there.
I plan to write a letter to the parole board, and will help get petitions signed in support of her effort.
Angie lies in the Rose Prairie Cemetery in Halltown, Mo., beside her grandparents. When we decorate family graves there on Memorial Day, Tim and I often run into Shirley and Paul, as they place red and white flowers on Angie’s grave.
I have had other close friends who have lost children, talented people who were murdered at a young age. I have witnessed their suffering and seen how it has affected their lives. In at least two cases, I have seen them turn to alcohol to drown their sorrows.
Shirley didn’t do that. She continued working hard at her job, and in her retirement is able to enjoy travel and her daily life.
But she was robbed of the chance to see Angie graduate from high school, go on to college, find that perfect mate and provide her with grandchildren.
Some sorrow never ends. Some voids just can’t be filled.