Ginni Lopez and Ted Wolf met at a college mixer. "He was cute, he was funny, I was very attracted to him," she remembers. They dated, fell in love, married, had three sons.
He became a state cop, though she wasn't crazy about the idea. Once the boys all reached school age, she got a job as a computer programmer. It was a life with ups and downs, joy and pain, but at its core was a marriage strong as steel, a relationship that defined both of them as it headed for its 20th year.
Then, in the predawn chill of a March morning 17 months ago, Ginni Wolf listened with growing numbness as a group of her husband's fellow state police officers informed her that he had been shot in the head while on traffic patrol a couple hours earlier.
"Is he dead?" she had to ask, because none of the uneasy group was volunteering the information.
"Yes," was the inevitable answer, an answer that would send her life reeling into what once had been the province of barely acknowledged nightmares.
Much of those first weeks of grief and bewilderment remains a merciful blur as Mrs. Wolf looks back now. A condolence call paid by President and Mrs. Bush -- "I knew it was a big thing, but they were just like anybody else," she recalls. The 18-mile funeral procession that stopped beltway traffic -- "Everyone was commenting on how great it was but it went right over my head. I do remember thinking, 'I wish Ted could see this.' He would have liked it."
But if those memories are blurred, the single-minded focus on a goal she set for herself was not.
"Catching the killers," she says grimly. "That was my whole life. For some reason it was something to hold on to. It doesn't make much sense now, but it did then."
Surrounded by the cool, blue hues of the living room of her Glen Burnie home, Mrs. Wolf speaks in controlled, measured tones about the feelings that would become an obsession. And about how some day her experience might help others.
"Right now I'm still just trying to get myself and the kids together," she says. "But I hope to do more with the victims' rights movement. Survivors are victimized by the system. There's a lot of unnecessary trauma that victims and their survivors go through and if there's something I could do, I'd like to help."
She is relaxing now, looking trim and comfortable in shorts and tennis shoes, her auburn hair bouncing casually across her cheek as she speaks. She glances now and then at a family portrait above the sofa: herself and the three boys, smiling, and a stern-faced Ted Wolf. "That's the state police expression," she says of the man she and others describe as a fun-filled practical joker. "He had to look stern."
She can relax a little because right now she is between trials. Last month Eric Joseph Tirado -- one of two men charged in the March 29, 1990, murder of Cpl. Theodore Wolf -- was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. Mrs. Wolf attended every day of that six-week trial and also plans to attend every day of the trial of the second defendant, Francisco Rodriguez, who will be arraigned in a Howard County court on Aug. 27.
Her decision to be a constant presence in the courtroom met with little understanding from friends and relatives. "Some people were supportive but didn't understand why I had to go to the trial," Mrs. Wolf says. "Others said, 'Don't go to the trial, it will be too painful for you.'
"Only people like Roberta [Roper] and others who had been through this knew without asking why I wanted to go. They knew it was something I had to do."
Roberta Roper -- whose daughter Stephanie was brutally murdered in Prince Georges County nine years ago and turned her own grief into political action by forming the Stephanie Roper Committee to fight for victims' rights -- does indeed understand why Ginni Wolf was drawn to the courtroom day after day.
It's a "terrible misconception," Mrs. Roper says, to think that victims or survivors want to be in the courtroom to influence the proceedings.
"Most of us have a desperate need to be there for ourselves," she explains. "This is for the rest of our lives. When you lose someone major in your life, everything about that death has to be dealt with sooner or later. To see, to hear, to understand -- it's part of the resolution, the acceptance.
"For many, this is the last chance to bear witness to the fact that someone they loved lived and mattered," she adds. "It's an important step to healing."
Healing is still much more of a goal than an accomplishment for Ginni Wolf. Life is full, to be sure, taking care of the boys, Nick, 13; Greg, 15; and Ted Jr., 17. She's had to help them deal with this tragic turn to their lives as they struggle with the usual traumas of adolescence. Outwardly, it's been hardest on Greg, who has been in counseling since his father's death and will attend a military school this year because, his mother says, "he needs the discipline and structure and somebody to enforce it. I don't think the public schools provide it and I'm not capable."