Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sonja Larson

In three hours, he’s going to die.

At exactly 6 p.m. in Starke, Florida, he’ll be executed by lethal injection. I’m not mentioning his name here, because he’s already received enough publicity. I don’t want him immortalized, which is why he says he killed. I’d rather remember the kids whose lives he brutally stole.

Tracy Paules, 23. Christa Hoyt, 19. Manuel Taboada, 23. Sonja Larson, 18. Christina Powell, 17.

Sonja Larson was just 18 when the killer stabbed her to death, 16 years ago in Gainesville.

Back then, I was a reporter sent to interview Ada Larson, Sonja’s mom. The Larsons lived in my beat. I didn’t want to talk to her, intrude on her grief and privacy, but I went. It was one of the toughest assignments of my journalism career. I wasn’t that much older than some of the killer’s victims. And Gainesville had been my home, my school, my turf. I had been graduated from journalism school at UF.

In fact, I had lived in an apartment complex barely a mile from one of the murders.

I talked with Ada Larson, a gentle woman who was remarkably composed, and very open about her only daughter. Sonja adored children and wanted to be a teacher. She was active in her church. Ada showed me some of her artwork. She gave me photos of Sonja so we could run them in the paper.

I left her house, feeling grieved and wounded, as if I had known Sonja myself. How could anyone do this? Her only daughter, her baby, her little girl. Sonja’s whole future was ahead of her, like a shining beacon in the distance.

The killer snuffed that beacon out with a knife.

I’ve been wondering this week what Sonja’s life would have been like had she lived. She’d be 34 now. Married with kids? An artist, or a teacher? College is walkway to the future. What path would she have pursued?

She never had the chance to set the first footprint.

I returned those photos to Ada, leaving them in a sealed envelope. It was the last I saw of her, for the Larsons soon moved. Maybe the memories were too much. Sonja in every room, Sonja laughing in the kitchen, painting in the bedroom.

Sonja never coming home again. The house must have echoed eerily with her silence.

Inside the envelope I left a small keychain for Ada with a note. It was a keychain with a small dove, signifying peace. I wrote in my note to Ada that I prayed she’d be able to find peace. Some day. Some how.

16 years later, I hope that Ada has found a modicum of peace.

I certainly don’t wish it for the killer.

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