Once a victim, always a victim

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

August 01, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

It was a Thursday morning like any other morning -- this Thursday morning in January 1990.

Anna and Frederick Cook got up early, dressed and had breakfast.

On Thursdays, Anna Cook usually stopped at the grocery store after work, so she asked her husband what he'd like for dinner.

Frederick thought about it, then named a few dishes he thought he might like.

Then he said, "But don't you hurry yourself from the grocery store. You take it easy, hear?"

And Anna said, "I will. And you be careful, too."

And Frederick said, "OK."

Then they kissed and headed off to work -- Anna to the Sweetheart Cup factory in Owings Mills; Frederick to the offices of Loomis Armored Inc. on Old Harford Road.

Anna was 54 years old then. Frederick, 58. They were just a few months shy of their 40th wedding anniversary and their mornings often began this way: Frederick telling his wife to be careful. Anna warning her husband. A final kiss and then off to work.

About 1:44 p.m. that Thursday, a gunman stopped Frederick Cook as he made a delivery to a Signet Bank branch in Long Reach Village in Columbia.

The gunman demanded money, then, apparently without provocation, shot Frederick Cook once at point-blank range. He took a money bag and, before leaving, shot Frederick Cook again, point-blank. Frederick Cook died two days later of gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen.

And thus it was that on that day 18 months ago Anna Cook was catapulted into a never-ending nightmare: She became the victim of a crime.

"Once you become a victim, you stay a victim," she said yesterday. "You're victimized by everyone it seems like: the courts, the justice system in general. When you're a crime victim, it's like you're nothing. It seems like no one cares for you. It seems like you're always alone, and it shouldn't be.

"No one," said Anna Cook, her voice breaking, her eyes misting with tears, "no one knows the pain we feel. No one knows how much it hurts. The pain. The hurt. What we have to go through. It is endless."

She is a slender, soft-voiced woman and as she talks about her husband, she wrings her hands and fights back tears. We were in the dining room of her modest home in Middle River and signs of Frederick Cook are everywhere. It is as if he never left.

There he stands, broad-shouldered and smiling, in photo after photo on the walls. His cat, Baby, lies curled up on a rug in the living room. His two pure-breed English bulldogs, Angel and Patience, are in the kitchen, leaping and panting from behind a barrier.

Anna Cook said, "People will say, 'Well, your husband's been dead almost two years, you ought to get on with your life.' But that was my life. I didn't have any other life but him.

"Or they say right away, 'You ought to start dating.' But after 40 years of marriage, you don't want another man. I don't, anyway."

But the thing that hurts the most, the thing that seems most like betrayal to crime victims, is the seeming indifference, the lack of compassion from officialdom.

"They don't tell you anything," Anna Cook said. "They try to keep you in the dark. They're not up front about a lot of things. It is like you don't exist or like you don't count."

Again, it is the little things.

"I had to send my sons to Howard County, while their father lay dying in the hospital, to pick up his wallet and his keys. I never received his glasses, a new pair, until three weeks after I buried him, and I had to send over there for them. They did not bring them to me."

Anna Cook's experiences are instructive.

Through all the political speeches and official expressions of outrage on behalf of crime victims, they still feel neglected and uncared for and alone.

Three years ago, a group of victims formed "Families of Murdered Love Ones" to offer each other the spiritual and moral support they felt they needed. Anna Cook credits the group's support, along with that of her family, for keeping her going.

The group plans a campaign to call attention to crime victims by distributing blue ribbons, similar to the yellow ribbons in support of Persian Gulf troops and the red ribbons against drunken driving. Blue ribbons are sure to be a big hit with politicians.

But a blue ribbon can never be a substitute for compassion, for caring, for old-fashioned common courtesy.

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