Tragedy can visit any household without warning


January 16, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

The priest remembers seeing him in church because, for one thing, men in their 30s aren't the most devoted church-goers, and parish priests appreciate the ones who show up. Jimmy Kulbicki regularly attended Mass with his wife and two boys at St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore. Father Joe Hart remembers that much.

And he remembers Kulbicki as rugged, quiet and intense. "He was a still-waters-run-deep kind of guy," says Father Joe, now assigned to a Towson parish. Kulbicki never betrayed a serious personal problem, and the priest likes to think he has a good eye for people in trouble. After six years at St. Elizabeth's, he should. He did a lot of family counseling in his time over there; plenty of trouble stepped through the door. Never the Kulbickis, though.

Kulbicki's wife was "warm, very likable." His mother was active in the parish, a generous woman, well-known along Linwood Avenue. Until a few months before his death in 1991, his father was a money-counter for the church, a tough old guy who had worked down at Sparrows Point. Father Joe remembers Jimmy Kulbicki at the bedside when his father died. He remembers him stoic. He remembers him well. Solid guy. City police sergeant. Devoted father.

But old soldiers say, "You never hear the one that hits you." You don't see it coming, either.

The other night, when he heard the news and saw the face on the TV screen, Father Joe dropped a coat hanger on the floor. He had been reaching to hang up a suit when the anchorman said Kulbicki's name.

Kulbicki had been arrested for the murder of a 22-year-old woman, Gina Marie Nueslein. She had allegedly been Kulbicki's lover and had accused him, in a paternity suit, of being the father of her child. She had told others she feared he would harm her, according to court documents. Kulbicki, 36 years old, is accused of shooting Nueslein and leaving her body in Gunpowder State Park last weekend. He was arrested the night before he was due to appear at a paternity hearing.

Father Joe was awed by the news. There were a lot of broken and troubled people in the St. Elizabeth's community, but not this guy. Not Jimmy Kulbicki.

Apparently, though, something terrible had been brewing for a long time. And so we have another horrific story, from top to bottom.

A young woman is dead, leaving behind a whole family of people who will be in pain the rest of their lives. Her 16-month-old son, deprived of a mother, will grow up in the shadow of this tragedy. A career cop sits in jail on a murder charge, everything around him in ruins, his family, including a wife and two sons, in shock.

"Crime of passion" is what a judge called it this week.

"Domestic violence" was the term used by an assistant state's attorney.

It is one of the oldest stories: Death at the end of some twisted human relationship. This time, we paid more attention because the accused was a cop.

But this kind of violence, most commonly inflicted against women by husbands and lovers, is reported every day, everywhere, to the point of numbing us.

If you don't know the participants, you just shake your head, wonder, speculate, make judgments from a distance, and feel relieved it didn't happen in your family.

And, because we have what Clarence Darrow called "the infinite mercy to consider all," we sympathize, in some spiritual way, with all innocents -- mothers, fathers, sons, daughters -- who get pulled into these nightmares. "People we don't even know are calling and telling us how sorry they feel about what happened," Gina Nueslein's father said the other day.

If you're among America's walking wounded -- and there are millions of them -- you connect to stories like this differently. You feel their impact deep in places you've felt pain before. For every victim of a crime such as this, there is a family that experienced pain and loss. For every killer, a family scarred forever. No one gets out untouched.

You're lucky if you get through life without stepping on the land mines. Or without having someone drop a bomb on your household. Without bad news knocking at the door.

This is my 20th year in the newspaper business and, sorry to say, that's the one lasting conclusion I draw from all the human misery and misfortune I've seen along the way -- from city to suburb to rural roadside. No matter what your station, no matter how stable things seem, you're lucky if the center holds, your judgments about people remain true, your family stays together, and you live out your life without tragedy stepping through the door.

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