Mothers find time is little comfort

Sons died violently in Florida last year

April 11, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

It has been a year since the sons of Jill Carter and Christine Neperud were savagely killed in Florida. The pain has not ebbed. On birthdays, on Thanksgiving and Christmas, even while driving or taking a shower, the mothers duel with their emotions while finding ways to cope.

"Every day is hard," Carter says. "I haven't been myself since it happened."

It was never supposed to be this way.

Neperud's son, Matthew C. Wichita, should be playing basketball, attending college, having fun. And Carter's son, Kevans Bradshaw Hall, should be completing classes at Howard County Community College and hanging out with friends.

Wichita and Hall were killed at a Florida beach resort while on spring break last year with three other graduates of Oakland Mills High School. One person, Seth K. Qubeck, was seriously stabbed and survived.

Carter and Neperud have sought solace in friends and family. But often that hasn't been enough. For months after Hall's death, Carter even had trouble talking to her remaining son, Tajuan. "It was rough on both of us," Carter says. "The three of us were like a circle. Now it's broken."

Since the April 16 deaths, the mothers have been awaiting justice. Three of the alleged ringleaders, all brothers, face counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Hall, 23, and Wichita, 21, who were stabbed and beaten. Each also faces a charge of attempted murder in the stabbing of Qubeck, now 22.

The trial, originally scheduled for January, was delayed until June. Now, backlogs in DNA testing are expected to push the trial into the fall or winter, officials said.

So far, four men have pleaded guilty in the case. They are expected to testify against Joshua Trull, 18, Christopher Trull, 25, and Jonathan Trull, 28.

Authorities allege that Joshua Trull scuffled with the Maryland vacationers at the Ocean Palms Beach Club near Daytona Beach that April afternoon, went home and rounded up his brothers and friends. A large group returned that night with knives and baseball bats.

Wichita was killed outside his room; Hall, who suffered several stab wounds, was chased down steps and collapsed on the resort's sandy driveway; Qubeck was stabbed 17 times on the beach.

Authorities have dozens of witnesses and are seeking DNA evidence to bolster their case and tie suspects to victims, said prosecutor Noah McKinnon, who is seeking the death penalty.

The Trull brothers will be tried together, and the trial should last a month, McKinnon said.

The delays have been hard on the mothers, who hope the trial will bring them closure.

"The wound is just so open," Neperud says. "It's a fresh wound, oozing. It will get softer, but will never, never go away."

In the days and months after the deaths, the tragedy gripped Columbia, where victims' families and friends packed the mothers' homes, the funerals and then memorial services.

A year later, many have put the killings behind them, but it hasn't been easy. Most friends who spoke about Wichita and Hall a year ago declined to be interviewed last week. Qubeck's stepfather hung up the phone. Some spoke briefly but complained that reporters were bringing up bad memories. Most simply want to be left alone.

Yet, the mothers spoke freely about the past year, the pain, the anniversaries, how they have been dealing with the tragedy. Since June, Neperud has been writing a poem about her son on scraps of paper. The other night, while laughing, crying and smiling, she finally wove them together on her computer screen and plans to read her work during a memorial service at Wichita's grave Friday.

A former Catholic nun, she prays often. At the school where she teaches first-graders, Neperud says watching her pupils learn to read offers a rare escape.

"When my mind is occupied, I don't think of Matthew," Neperud says. "But when it's not occupied, Matthew is on my mind."

Carter has few, if any, escapes.

She can't work because her mind draws blanks. Even talking about Hall can fill her days with tears.

Though she is seeing a therapist, Carter says, her only real solace is the Bible, reading the books of Psalms and Proverbs.

She has met parents who have lost children and asked them dozens of questions.

When does the pain stop? Will it always hurt this much?

She often feels hazy, as you do when you get up to do something and forget the chore mid-stride. Is that normal? she asks them.

Their answer: The pain will ease but never vanish.

Both mothers agree. Though watching the trial probably won't help the hurt, they said, going to Florida might at least answer their questions.

"I need to know how my child died," Neperud says. "As Matthew's mother, I have a lot of unanswered questions. I want to look the Florida defendants in the eyes and see who they are. I want to be able to tell the jury and the judge who Matthew was as a person."

Pub Date: 4/11/99

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