Parents Share Heartbreak

Parents Share Heartbreak

When a bullet killed her son Nick, Lori (Shomaker) O'Meara said she wanted to die, too. She would slip into his sweatpants and T-shirt before crawling into his bed "to get as close to him as I can."

When a gun felled Eric Van Nederynen, his mother, Mary Ellen, said the pain was so crippling that "breathing literally hurt." She, too, wore her son's shirts, although they provided no comfort.

Donald "Nick" Shomaker, 15, of Ashburn, died of a gunshot wound March 22, 2004. Eric Van Nederynen, 15, of Sterling, was shot twice Sept. 15, 2000. Several Loudoun parents recently shared the details of their anguish after losing a child as a result of homicide.

ERIC’S MOTHER said she would gasp for air, realizing she had stopped breathing. She also got headaches, as she kept listening for Eric to come through the door.

She remembers calling a friend whose first born died two years later. The friend also talked about having trouble breathing. And the friend said she had scolded her daughter that morning for leaving the door to her son's room open, "You can't let the smell out!"

It took Eric's mother about six months to inhale without hurting.

William Smith said he felt like his world had ended when he learned that his daughter, Erica, had been murdered.

"With me, simple tasks like mowing the lawn, walking the dog, I couldn't bring myself to do this anymore. "You don't want to eat. You don't want to talk to people you've known all your life, be part of anything you used to do, even things that once uplifted you."

As he spoke, he held his hand on his chest, then thrust it down the middle, "You feel like half of your body has been ripped apart. … It's a nightmare and I'm praying I'll wake up." Erica Heather Smith, 14, of Ashburn, was found in a shallow grave Aug. 9, 2002, 11 days after her disappearance. Authorities have not disclosed the cause of death.

ERICA'S MOTHER, Pam Dade, said she couldn't stand to see other mothers shopping with their daughters. She stopped listening to music, because it reminded her too much of her daughter's love of singing.

Dade would come home and go straight to bed. She didn't think she could find the strength to go on.

Stephanie Strosnider said she worked 80 to 90 hours a week so she wouldn't have to deal with the reality of the murders of her two toddlers. She doesn't remember much about that time in her life. Jessica and Brittany Strosnider, 3 and 2, lived in Stephens City, Va. They died of gunshot wounds to the head March 10, 1991, shot by their father, Todd Strosnider, who then turned the gun on himself.

CAROLYN HORNBAKER described the day she found her murdered son in their home as the "beginning of hell for me. It's just like hell on earth." Patrick Blair Hornbaker, 31, of Purcellville, was found shot at the home he shared with his mother May 21, 2001. Like other parents, she spoke of anger. She was mad at authorities for not allowing her to kiss her son goodbye and not permitting a pastor to give last rites. "What angers me is someone chose to change all of our lives."

Van Nederynen said she was angry at God. "Even if in the same breath I could thank Him for the blessing of this child in my life for 15 years."

SMITH EXPRESSED anger and frustration at the Sheriff's Office, which categorized his daughter's disappearance as a runaway. "We’re horribly unhappy, to say the least, about the way they treated our child when she was missing. They wouldn’t help find her."

He and his wife will always wonder if Erica’s death might have been prevented if someone had found her earlier. Her body was found in a shallow grave 11 days after they reported her missing, and no cause of death has been released.

Not knowing the details of Erica’s demise also aggravates the situation. "Even to this day, I wonder, and Pam does too, what did they do to our baby girl to take her last breath. Was she crying out, begging for her life? … We do know it was brutal."

Dade said she hopes Erica felt no pain. "I hope God came down and just lifted her up."

Smith said parents who lose a child never escape the pain. "There's the constant longing to give her a hug and to tell her you love her, to watch her grow, to be there for her."

He expects the crippling pain of the first months after Erica's death will return once her killers are caught. "It'll be just like day one."

Carolyn and Leah Hornbaker can identify. Right now, their frustration is with the killer still being on the loose and people thinking they should be over the pain by now. Patrick's death made his mother both physically and emotionally ill.

"It's like, if we put it in a package everything will be fine," she said. "It'll never, ever be fine. … It's been five years. How do we fit into life again?"