Carroll Co. hopes quilt brings comfort to victims' families

Those killed in homicides, crashes are memorialized

April 07, 2003|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Richard Alan Purman is there in his senior class portrait, a mop of dark curls spilling over a brooding expression. Grandmother Helga Nicholls, who hated having her picture taken, is caught with her eyebrows aloft. Psychologist Rodney R. Cocking looks elegant in a tuxedo, as does young Gregory L. Howard, in a full-length prom pose.

Their photographs have been placed, along with those of more than a dozen others who died in Carroll County by homicide or in traffic accidents, on a memorial quilt to go on display today at the County Office Building.

Some of the victims died just months ago, some 15 years ago or more. Their survivors still mourn, but some say they find the quilt somehow comforting -- and a tangible sign that their loved ones have not been forgotten.

"I think it's a lovely way to remember and not to forget," said Kathleen Garrity, whose father and stepmother were killed in 1998 in Frizzellburg.

Jodi L. Rill, the administrative assistant in the Victim Witness Assistance Unit in the Carroll County state's attorney's office, came up with the idea. She and the unit's director, Shirley E. Haas, sent out about 60 letters in February about the project to the victims' families, asking for a favorite picture.

The photographs started arriving within days.

One of the first came from Hilda Mae Fefel, 80. It showed her son, John C. Ruhs, standing and adjusting his tan sport coat on the white marble steps of the Southwest Baltimore home where she had lived for 34 years.

Ruhs, 46, was found shot on a dusty road near Liberty Reservoir in March 1987, and the case remained unsolved for five years, until the system caught up with a jealous ex-husband.

"That was my one child," said Fefel, who moved to Frankford, Del., six months after the slaying. She said she misses her old neighborhood but could not stay there because she was so accustomed to hearing her son come and go. He had lived next door to her.

Garrity, 40, of Middle River said she resents the stepbrother who killed her father, Joseph S. Garrity, 68, and stepmother, Barbara Lorraine Ries Garrity, 67. The couple was found bludgeoned with a skinning ax Dec. 29, 1998, at their home in the 1400 block of Warehime Road. The stepbrother was found not criminally responsible and is in a state mental institution.

She sent a photograph for the quilt of the couple by their Christmas tree. She planned to attend a memorial service yesterday in Westminster that is part of the statewide observance of National Crime Victims Rights Week.

"You find it helpful that there are other people in your situation who do know what it's like, who are there who have lost loved ones, too. I think it does bring some comfort -- and it does open up old wounds at the same time," she said. "It's not as sad as it was, but it hurts, it really does."

Kristy Costley, 34, of Westminster submitted a copy of the photograph that ran in newspaper accounts about the stabbing death of her mother, renowned radio talk-show caller Helga Nicholls.

"I wanted to pick something that I know she would like," said Costley, whose ex-husband was charged with murder in the slaying. Nicholls, 53, was stabbed in August in her home near Westminster, where she was watching Costley's two children.

"We're all doing OK," Costley said. "We have a strong faith in God, in taking it one day at a time -- and waiting for justice to be served."

Religious faith also has sustained Elaine Breeding in the years since her 17-year-old son Richard Purman was shot to death in 1987. The South Carroll High School senior had agreed to help three teen-agers escape from a Sykesville shelter home by giving them a ride, but they killed him for the temperamental car he had worked to buy, she said. Only her son could start it -- so after the trio failed, they walked back to the shelter.

Breeding was moved by the idea of the memorial quilt.

"I think it's beautiful. I love the idea," she said. "We don't forget. We don't want to forget."

"I think with God's help I have done remarkably well. I miss him very badly," said Breeding, 71, of Eldersburg, who with her ex-husband has been through 17 court proceedings in her son's murder. "Without faith, I don't think I could keep up."

Raymond E. Shipley's son Scott E. Shipley was fatally shot Nov. 15 at a Westminster-area trucking company, the most recent homicide in the county. His son's wife and her friend have been charged with murder.

"We miss him every day," said Shipley, 53, of Westminster, of his 32-year-old son. "Anything we can do to honor him, we'll do it."

Last week, Walter Schultz sat outside the courtroom where a man is standing trial in the fatal beating in February last year of Cocking, a National Science Foundation research program director from Taylorsville. Schultz, 72, of Trenton, N.J., gave sometimes emotional testimony Tuesday about his companion of almost 21 years.

Schultz saw the quilt and pronounced it "beautiful."

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