Remembering victims of snipers

October 01, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

WHEATON - The serpentine path beckons visitors to stroll up the slight incline, toward a pond where turtles sunbathe on the islands, an area so serene that the turtles' slide into the water and birds' chirps break the near-silence.

But first, approaching the pond's edge, the path opens into an irregularly shaped terrace of gray stones.

More than 150 people are expected here today, as Montgomery County unveils a Reflection Terrace, a memorial in Wheaton Regional Park's Brookside Gardens to the sniper victims and other victims of violence. The dedication comes on the eve of the second anniversary of the October sniper shooting spree that killed 10 people and wounded three others in the Washington area.

The snipers laid siege to the region for three weeks, as victim after victim, from a teenager about to enter a school to a 72-year-old man about to cross a street, was shot. The highest toll was in Montgomery County, where six people were slain, most within a few miles of the large and serene park.

Authorities arrested John Allen Muhammad and teenager Lee Boyd Malvo at a truck stop Oct. 24, 2002, and charged them in the shootings. The pair, who later were linked to numerous other shootings, three fatal, were convicted of murder last year in separate trials in Virginia. Muhammad was sentenced to death and Malvo to life without parole. Muhammad will be tried in a second sniper slaying in Virginia in January.

The 1 p.m. ceremony will mark the dedication with solemn thoughts and remembrances.

Many family members of the Washington-area victims are expected to attend. Among them is Vickie Snyder, whose brother James L. "Sonny" Buchanan Jr., 39, was gunned down two years ago Sunday while he mowed the lawn of an auto dealership in the White Flint section of the county. Brookside, she said, holds memories of her brother, a landscaper.

Snyder said Buchanan used to take her there, pointing out trees to help her decide what she might want to plant.

"I wouldn't know what they were, but he knew all the Latin names," she said.

She remembered selecting an unusual tree - the curly-twigged Harry Lauder's walking stick - for her Rockville yard after Buchanan showed her the one in Brookside.

The memorial, she said, is a "wonderful tribute to all those loved ones who were taken from us. They were all working people and they were going about their daily lives when they were taken from us."

In addition to Buchanan, the Washington-area victims were: James D. Martin, 55, of Wheaton; Premkumar A. Walekar, 54, of Olney; Sarah Ramos, 34, of Silver Spring; Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, of Silver Spring; Pascal Charlot, 72, of Washington; Dean H. Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg; Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, of Philadelphia; Linda Franklin, 47, of Arlington; and Conrad Johnson, 35, of Oxon Hill.

The idea for the memorial can be traced to last year's vigil on the first anniversary of the October 2002 sniper shootings, when County Executive Douglas M. Duncan made the suggestion.

"We are doing it for a couple of reasons. We wanted to help the families find some peace," he said. "We thought this would be a nice way to remember victims of violence."

Such memorials - the county has another remembering its residents who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - bring communities together, Duncan said.

The park's tranquil setting appropriately allows visitors to pause, he said.

"I think as they walk around all of Brookside Gardens, they will stop and think about the victims and reflect on violence in our society and their role in our society," he said.

The project cost $50,000, most of which has come in donations, which are still being collected, officials said.

A committee recommended the site, an old terrace informally called Stonehenge for its large gray rocks. It overlooks a pond in the Japanese-style Gude Garden and is flanked by a weeping cherry tree and a Southern magnolia.

Reflection Terrace is a remodeling of an existing terrace behind the visitors center. About 30 feet by 20 feet, it's where gray stones serve as benches, edging and, now, engraved memorials.

Three rocks were cleaned for engraving by R.S. Kinnaird Memorials of Thurmont.

"Linger here and reflect on all those lost to violence. Hope for a more peaceful world. Seek a reverence for life among all people," reads the one with the pond as its backdrop.

Two tall stones recall the sniper attacks. One lists names of those killed, and the other reminds visitors that "they lived and worked among us - and they are not forgotten." A plaque in the walkway thanking donors remembers Erika "Kimmi" Smith, 9, and her father, George Gregory Russell, of Silver Spring, who were killed in August 2002 by an intruder.

The site was adapted with a design by Vienna, Va., landscape architect Sunny Scully.

"We want people to linger here, so I wanted plantings that would have a fragrant scent," said Philip M. Normandy, Brookside's plant collections manager. Hosta, wormwood, catmint and hyssop are among the greenery he chose.

The area was regraded, and the old walkway was replaced with gray concrete pavers by J&G Landcape Design of Spencerville to make the area handicapped-accessible.

Thousands of people are likely to see the memorial, as Brookside receives about 300,000 visitors a year, said David Vismara, Brookside's director.

Susan and Harold Oseroff of Silver Spring, happening upon Brookside's gardeners finishing the plantings, recalled their fears two years ago and reflected on the sentiments on the stone panels.

"I looked at that," Susan Oseroff said, gesturing toward the "Linger here" engraving. "I think that's beautiful.'"

"A completely appropriate wish for a peaceful world," Harold Oseroff said. "And in perpetuity, it will always be relevant."

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