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Kisses to Heaven

A Mother Remembers
With the strike of a match, her son-in-law murdered her daughter and grandchildren. Pat shares the horror, the grief and the road to healing that would make her daughter proud.

Gina and her sons, Shaun and Joshua
This is the story of Gina Marie and her two children. She was my 26-year-old daughter. She was also a mother of two beautiful boys, my 3-year-old grandson, Shaun and his 7-month-old brother Joshua.

Like three precious stones thrown recklessly into a pond, the impact of losing them ripples throughout our family in circles of sorrow that just keep coming. On June 9, 1993, they were murdered in an arson fire, and my husband and I lost our first-born and only daughter and our two beautiful grandsons. This is our story too – as we remember the victims and go on.

Gina was looking for her American Dream – the little house with a white picket fence, two cars in the garage, kids, a dog in the yard and a wonderful husband. After she graduated from school she married and gave birth to Shaun in December 1989. But the marriage ended in divorce.

Later, she met someone else and they moved to Pennsylvania. It wasn't long before I got a phone call that Gina's boyfriend beat her during a birthday party she gave for him. He hit her, bit her arm and punched her several times in the stomach. The police were called; Gina went to the hospital and her boyfriend went to jail.

A Turn for the Worse

Gina didn't press charges. She didn't file a Protection from Abuse Form. She decided that he didn't mean it. He had been drinking, she reasoned, so all was forgiven. He was left in control.

Things got worse for them: credit problems, terminated employment, a sick child and continued violence. In spite of the abuse, they got married. In fact, we didn't learn about the marriage until after the fact. Gina told me, "I didn't think you would approve." She was right.

"It took only seconds to change the world forever: their lives were taken with the strike of a match – and the nightmares for our family began."

In November 1992, sweet Joshua was born. Six months later Gina called. She told her father that she wanted to come home. She was finished with the relationship. Apparently, they had another fight, and this time our son-in-law threatened to take the children from her. These were words that Gina understood. The abuse she could tolerate, but she couldn't risk his impact on the kids. Her father told her to get in the car and come home.

Gina packed the car and was preparing to leave when our son-in-law returned to the scene and continued threats to take the kids and that she would never see them again. She believed his threats and stayed.

The Nightmare

One month later on Wednesday June 9, 1993, our son-in-law poured gasoline in the living room, up the stairs and right into Gina's bedroom. He lit a match and walked away. He walked away without a burn on his body or carbon monoxide in his lungs; he walked away while my daughter and two grandsons died in the inferno.

Gina had gotten the little house, the two cars, the kids and even the dog. The only thing is, she had married a man who needed total control over her. He made a choice. He gained the ultimate form of control – Gina, Shaun and Joshua were now silent witnesses to murder.

It took only seconds to change the world forever: their lives were taken with the strike of a match – and the nightmares for our family began. It was seven months and three days before our son-in-law was arrested. It was another year and a half before he was tried.

I have never been able to put words to those emotions when we were told the jury had a verdict. I think I relived every second of Gina, Shaun and Joshua's lives in those few minutes. Time stood still – and then it came: guilty on the charge of arson. Guilty in the first degree for killing Gina. Guilty in the second degree for killing Shaun. Guilty in the second degree for killing Joshua. The sentencing was three consecutive life sentences without the chance of parole.

The Healing Road

There is nothing so awful as burying your daughter. At times I felt as if I were having a heart attack – my heart was truly broken. People would try to tell me to get over it, but it's something I will never get over. I am, however, moving forward. I get up everyday, get dressed, go to work and function as a "normal person." But a part of me is missing – it's as if I've had my arm cut off; the stump has healed, but every so often those nerve endings tingle, and I'm reminded that I've lost something that was supposed to be with me.

I don't entertain the "what ifs" – what if I had done this or what if I had said that. It won't change a thing; my daughter is still gone. Instead I've learned to spend my energy focusing on all the wonderful, happy memories I had with her. That's what gets me through it.

Grieving is different for everyone. There's no "right way" to do it. It took me over a year before I put earrings on because I felt I shouldn't look nice, after all, my daughter was dead. Grieving is very hard and it's very tiring; I felt tired all the time, so I learned that it's okay to say "no" to people.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel; it's like coming out of a cocoon. I have become a completely different person than I was – a mother who can stand up straight and proud and look at the sky with a smile on her face and send a kiss to the heavens. Someone once asked me, "Assuming you believe in life after death, what would you want Gina to say to you when she first sees you after you die?". I thought about it for a long time and have finally come up with the response that I would want to hear from Gina: "You did good Mom!"

Pat speaks in prisons and works with the court system to help educate convicts about the impact of crime on victims.

Witness Justice, PO Box 2516, Rockville, MD 20847-2516, 301.846.9110, info@witnessjustice.org

Last Updated on November 15, 2011


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