It's nearing Christmas, and the Passarelli family still hasn't put up their holiday decorations and lights on their Herndon townhome. The kitchen, where the family's Christmas tree typically is set up, is crowded with furniture, mail and boxes.
"Is it Christmas time?" asks Mike Passarelli, a 25-year-old carpenter originally from Herndon who now lives in Charlotte, N.C. "Seriously, I'm really not even thinking that it's that time of year right now."
On Nov. 20, Mike Passarelli's father, Joe, was struck by a car while crossing the intersection of Herndon Parkway and Ferndale Avenue on his pre-dawn walk with the family dog, Sporty. The car dragged the man as many as 200 feet down Herndon Parkway before taking off, leaving Joe Passarelli to fight for his life on the side of the road. He was less than a block from his home.
"I remember waking up and seeing the flashing lights from a firetruck out my window," said Tom Passarelli, Joe's 17-year-old son, who awoke a little after 6 a.m. that day. "I didn't even really think about it. There's accidents there all the time, so I kind of ignored it."
A few minutes later, Laura Passarelli, Joe's wife of more than four years and the step-mother to his three sons, walked outside, wondering where her husband was and seeing the emergency lights flashing around the corner. As she walked closer, she realized this was not just another anonymous accident.
Not long after the news of the accident came to his family, the cell phones of Joe Passarelli's 23- and 25-year-old sons, Rob and Mike, began a marathon of continuous rings. After finally waking themselves to the non-stop calls, both men were on their way up to Inova Fairfax Hospital to find out what happened to their father.
LATER THAT AFTERNOON, Joe Passarelli, a 53-year-old husband and father of three who loved motorcycles, computers and, most of all, his family, was dead.
Joe Passarelli, born and raised in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area was a computer systems architect, a veteran of the U.S. Army and a die-hard Redskins fan. He had served as a parent volunteer for his sons when they were enrolled as Boy Scouts and Indian Guides.
The father who would stay up all night to help his sons with their homework would no longer be there. He would never again come home after running out late at night to pick up something that his family needed.
Nearly one month later, Herndon Police issued a warrant for the driver who is believed to have struck Passarelli, former Sterling resident Jose Sibrian, 28. As of Dec. 18, authorities believe him to be in El Salvador after being deported earlier this month by federal immigration officers on an unrelated charge.
THE DAYS SINCE Passarelli's death have run together for his family, who said they have struggled to get the memory of what happened to their father from their minds even as they try to pick up the pieces and continue their lives.
"We were looking forward to just so many things together, retirement, little things like riding our bikes," said Laura Passarelli. "It was the end of every dream I had."
Tom Passarelli has had trouble concentrating on school, his mind finding its way back to the unsolved death of his father. Rob Passarelli has 36 messages on his cell phone because he has refused to check his voicemail since that day.
"It's not that I'm afraid, I just know what's in those first few messages," he said. "I just don't want to have to relive that right now."
All of the Passarelli brothers said that they regularly call their father's cell phone, just to hear his voice at the start of his voicemail. Mike and Rob Passarelli still leave him messages telling him that they love him.
"In his message he said that he'll get back to us," said Mike Passarelli. "We're still waiting for that call."
DEALING WITH what happened to their father is just as hard during the holidays as it would be any time of year, even though it has always been Joe Passarelli's favorite time of year, his family said.
To cope, the family has come together in support of each other, they said. The three brothers and their step-mom will call each other at "random" times during the day just to see how everything is and to say "I love you."
All of the Passarelli's and their family and close friends wear the Lance Armstrong-style memorial bracelets in red, white and blue, with their father's name and the words, "ride on," to symbolize his life philosophy.
Both Rob and Tom Passarelli, who have aspirations to go into careers in law enforcement, have said that dealing with this tragedy has only reinforced their desires to take up a career in public service.
WHILE THE NEWS that a suspect has been identified has been a relief for the family, the fact that he has yet to be apprehended is a frustration, Mike Passarelli said.
"It's kind of like taking two steps forward and one step back," he said. "It obviously is a move forward, and I do feel more comfortable, but I also feel disappointed."
There are currently no extradition treaties with El Salvador, Lt. Jerry Keys of the Herndon Police Department noted.
At least with a positive identification and a photo, police will have a better chance of finding Sibrian if he ever returns, Mike Passarelli said.
"The fact that we have a name, face and fingerprints, it definitely leaves us in a better position," he said.
Because of his illegal citizenship status, Mike Passarelli added that he can understand why Sibrian may have had more of a reason to flee.
"Maybe in a situation where illegal immigrants have nothing to lose, maybe that works to our disadvantage when they're taken out of the country and they can't be charged," he said. "Maybe that's just another way that people can look and see that politics play a part in this as well."
For Laura Passarelli, nothing will be able to make her feel complete again.
"I would like for the person who did this to come forward, for [the Passarelli brothers] it will bring them peace," she said. "But they cannot give me my husband back."