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It has been 12 years, but sometimes, like today, I feel the loss as if it were yesterday: On 6 March 1999, my friend Salomè Holly was murdered, along with her mother and sister, by her step-father of five months, Dayva Cross. I spent the day on a road trip from Indiana to Florida with three friends for spring break, and had meant to call Salomè the night before – but decided I would send a postcard from Orlando after I arrived. I found out later, too, that she had already bought me a card for my 21st birthday the following week, which was found in her room.
My friends (Brian, Jesús and Miguel) and the university, particularly in the person of my rector Fr. Tom Doyle, were of immense help in getting me home by the end of the week so I could participate in her memorial service, which was held the weekend of my birthday. When I returned to Indiana, Jesus drove 2 ½ hours to pick me up at the Indianapolis airport, and then drove me back two hours to the Notre Dame campus, where a group of nearly 20 friends were waiting in a surprise birthday/consolation ‘party’ – I do not know if any of them realized how much all of that meant to me.
Salomè and I were in the band together, but we really started talking when we found ourselves in line next to each other during Homecoming my senior – her freshman – year. She had come alone, and my date had wandered off to be with friends (in truth, I would have wandered off on me too; I was even more socially awkward back then and probably not a very interesting date!). Later, I meant to ask her to prom, but was prevented by three considerations: our prom was scheduled during the Easter Vigil; I had no money; and, I figured, as a newly accepted seminarian for the archdiocese, my priority should be the Vigil. Over the next three years, I would come home from college and we would talk religion and politics until wee hours, playing Risk or solving the world’s problems with other friends; one summer we helped on the congressional campaign of a neighbor whose campaign manager was one of these friends. Sometimes, we would be up until dawn, her and me, just talking.
Before Salomè, I had lost grandparents and other relatives to old age, I had had friends killed in car accidents, known people to die of cancer, and a boss who died from complications of MS. By the time I was 21, I had known 21 people – friends, relatives, and acquaintances – who had died, and I had been to more funerals than weddings. Each was a loss, and were some more tragic than others: one friend since fourth grade, Rob, was killed in a construction accident five weeks after we graduated high school, expecting a child with his girlfriend. I gave his funeral sermon.
To lose someone to murder is something else entirely; it hits you in a way unlike other losses of life. (At least, in terms of the ‘how’ of the loss. As to someone loosing a child or spouse, i can only imagine these likewise hold their own unique pain). Especially, I think, since there seemed no rationale, no excuse of robbery-gone-awry or to silence someone-who-knew-too-much, just the actions of a depressed drug addict with an unstable personality. A friend at ND, Adrian, let me know I was not crazy in feeling this way, having experienced the same thing himself – all the consolation of friends who meant well was accepted in kind, but none knew how different a thing it was to lose a friend to murder than to another kind of death, except him. I probably never let him know how much I appreciated that.
At no point did I support the death penalty for Dayva Cross. He tried to commit suicide just after his arrest; he wanted to die, but denying him his wish was not my only motivation for objecting to it. My faith would not allow it. I do not mean the rules of my church, though its clear and consistent pro-life teaching does not allow for capital punishment (despite widespread dissent on this issue), but I mean my faith in God and his role as judge over our lives. I also mean that everyone deserves the time they need to truly face what they have done, atone and repent – we can neither deprive them of that more excruciating punishment nor of that opportunity for redemption by taking their life in response. More urgently, though, I think I knew instinctively that if I held on to the anger at him, it would do more damage to me than his execution could heal. He still sits on death row in the Walla Walla State Penitentiary, one of eight awaiting execution by lethal injection or by hanging (we are one of only two states with that option).
I know I can still talk with Salomè, though it is not the same; I know she listens and perhaps intercedes on my behalf from time to time. My belief in the communion of saints also means I will see her again, and indeed, the one request I have of the Lord of Life is that when I meet my death, I can be there to greet her when she meets hers.
Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality. And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about:
“Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15.51-55