Thursday, September 28, 2006

Closure and Discomfort - Danny Rolling

Closure and Discomfort

By Andrew Marra
Alligator Staff Writer

For a long time after the murders, Lisa Buyer could not take a shower without someone else in the house.

Tommy Carroll would weep when he read newspaper stories about the deaths of strangers. And the darkness in Ricky Paules' life lingered until the birth of her first grandchild.

Many who were close to the five murdered students do not see themselves as victims. The victims are those who fell under Danny Rolling's blade, they say. But they curse Rolling for robbing them of so much that was good. And they curse the fact that 10 years later he is still alive, breathing air that his victims never will.

In some ways the years have been kind to family and friends of the murdered Gainesville students. Where there were once tears and shock and what-ifs and more tears, there are now memorials and softball tournaments and grandchildren and a new sense of purpose. There are counseling sessions long since completed and a group of families closely united by common pain.
But there also are things that 10 years have not eclipsed.

Tommy Carroll will never forget the Tuesday morning he entered the apartment of his friends Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada - fearing the worst - and found Tracy's butchered body in the hallway.

Ann Garren will never forget the last night she spent with her daughter, Christa Hoyt - the night before Hoyt was killed. She had told Garren she was looking for a new place in a better neighborhood.

Lisa Buyer will never forget talking to Tracy Paules the night before her murder, warning her to be careful because there was a killer on the loose. By then two bodies had been found.
Mostly, though, friends and family members say they will not forget Daniel Harold Rolling.
"It bothers me on a daily basis that he is still alive," said Buyer, who had known Manuel and Tracy since high school.

"I don't care if they stick him, gas him or fry him as long as they kill him," said George Paules, Tracy's father.

Carroll swears he will be a witness to Rolling's execution. When Carroll testified at Rolling's sentencing hearing in 1994, Rolling stared at him the entire time he spoke. Carroll looked in his eyes and saw evil, but he would not look away. He could not let Rolling win. It was the least he could do for Manny and Tracy, his high school friends.

Ricky Paules, Tracy's mother, is sure Rolling will die, but at 63 she is worried that she may not be around to see it happen. His death would bring closure for her, and the symbolic end to a long fight. The first few years after the murders were a battle with Rolling across the plains of her mind - a battle she says she has finally won.

"I'm not going to let him live in my head," she said. "I don't think about him every day."
The battle was made easier for Ricky and her husband, George, by the birth of Taylor Nicole Lahey, their first grandchild. Two years after Tracy's death, their granddaughter helped to ease the pain of her absence. Now, with six grandchildren, Ricky says time has softened the nights and the days.

The fight is not as easy for Garren, who says a day does not go by that she does not think of the man who killed her daughter. The murder was too gruesome, too violent.
"There is no closure," she said.

One thing the murders have done is make the victims' family and friends intense supporters of the death penalty. People who had never thought much about capital punishment before were quick to carry its flag. Many have become active proponents of streamlining the execution process and lowering the number of appeals a death row inmate can have. They know the legislative changes they push for would not affect Rolling. But they agree there will be other Danny Rollings.

Garren is angered that Rolling's appeals are pushing back his execution. How unfair, she says, that Rolling, who confessed his guilt, should be able to prolong his life.
"Our sentence is final," she said of her loss. "We don't get an appeal."

The victims are still remembered in little ways. Ricky Paules wears Tracy's birthstone ring. Tracy's brother, Scott, wears her class ring. Her sister, Laurie, has her jewelry. Taylor, the granddaughter, says a prayer every night for Aunt Tracy, who she never met.

When Buyer, who lives in Deerfield Beach, visits Gainesville she never leaves without passing the 34th Street Wall. Sometimes she will pull over. Or she will go to Gatorwood Apartments, where Tracy and Manuel were killed. Returning to Gainesville is easier now than it once was.
For Garren, the holidays are still terrible. Every year on Christa's birthday, she goes to her gravesite, writes notes on helium-filled balloons and lets them float away, imagining they are going to her daughter.

Such little reminders are footnotes to the larger things the murders have inspired. Garren, for example, goes to the state's prison for boys in Lancaster to tell young criminals about her struggle with Christa's violent death. She puts a face to murder and hopes it will do some good.
"I want to do things that will make Christa proud," Garren said.

Tracy's family has started the Tracy Paules Memorial Fund, which is administered by the Dade Community Foundation. It contributes to organizations like the American Cancer Society and schools for the blind. Her friends conduct fund-raising softball tournaments.

The murders have brought the families together. They trade cards and letters. They ask one another for advice, sharing a common perspective on life that few can have. Gainesville police Capt. Sadie Darnell acts as a liaison and keeps them informed about issues concerning the 34th Street Wall. Sometimes they have conference calls.

Friday's memorial service at the Wall will be an emotional event for all of them. Garren said it will be bittersweet to reunite with people she cares about in such a context.
George and Ricky Paules see the memorial as another way of moving on - a celebration of their daughter's life, not her death.

"That makes it a good thing," Ricky said.

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