- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

Tommy Burkett loved his 1985 Mustang, his guitar and riding horses. In 1991, he was a junior at Marymount College in Arlington when police said he committed suicide.

His parents think he was murdered, and they always wonder what would have happened if more police power had been assigned to his case.

Beth George and Tom Burkett were on the Mall yesterday - with other parents and family members - lobbying Congress to pass a law mandating stricter standards for local death investigations nationwide.

Tommy Burkett's name was one of 176 stitched onto one of 18 memorial quilts, all of whom were victims of violent, unexplained or unsolved deaths. The quilts were on display across from the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building in Southwest.

Mrs. George, 55, and Mr. Burkett, 55, started the Coverup Quilt project in 1991 following their son's death, and co-founded Parents Against Corruption and Coverup the same year.

"This is our sixth year of displaying the memorial quilt. At first, I was going to make a quilt for my son and then I heard of other families that had the same experiences. In each case, the family thought the cases should have been investigated more thoroughly. Most of the cases were ruled as suicides or accidents. However, the police had to reopen [some of the] cases and found they were homicides," Mrs. George said."In our case, our son was beaten to a pulp. The officer said, 'Don't blame yourself, college students kill themselves all the time,' "

Ms. George recalled, baffled at how police could conclude her son committed suicide. "But, we think, [Tom Burkett] … was assaulted outside of the house and brought inside," she said.Mary Jane Alexander of Potomac joined Mrs. George and Mr. Burkett yesterday on the Mall.

Her youngest son, Nelson Minter, died in 1993. He had been hit on the head several times and his body had been burned in a house fire. His block on the quilt contains a depiction of the scales of justice with the words 'Justice Denied' next to the scales. Mrs. Alexander said she joined Parents Against Corruption and Coverup in 1996."It's been nine years, and I keep hoping to get a trial. I don't have much faith but I do have hope. We put too much faith in the justice system," she said.

The silver-haired mother donned a straw hat with a wide brim to shield herself from the sun's intense rays. She described her son, Nelson, as fun-loving, charismatic and growing spiritually at the time of his death at age 36.

"I think there's a cammaraderie with other families who have had no justice. We try to be supportive of one another," Mrs. Alexander said, "Just knowing I'm not alone helps.

"Another reason I do this is to keep his memory alive. Sometimes after something like this you think the whole world has forgotten," she said.

Loved ones from Maine to California and from Montana to Texas were remembered yesterday on the quilts that speckled the Mall. And, at noon yesterday, the group's members recited the names of dead sons, daughters, nieces, brothers, uncles and aunts.

Nurma M. Carmichael … Terry T. Wright … Craig Thomas Toohey … Patrick Kelly … Michael Wolfe … U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Kirk Vanderbur - these were a part of the roll call of the dead.

Lois Vanderbur, 59, traveled from Mapleton, Iowa, to be part of the day's remembrance. She talked with a group of cyclists on the Mall. They seemed, she said, to be interested, so she explained some of her story to the young group.

Her son, Kirk Vanderbur, 24, was killed on Feb. 16, 1992, at a shooting range in Hubert, N.C. His body was found the following day. His gunshot wounds were "apparently" self-inflicted, according to the Marine Corps casualty report.

She said authorities said her son was shot in the stomach with a shotgun loaded with birdshot and in the head with a small-caliber rifle.

"This was a kid who was a National Merit Scholar, who could laugh at himself. And people who can laugh at themselves, don't commit suicide. And he was considered one of the most gung-ho Marines. Kirk's motto was that you can do anything you want to just take it one day at a time," she said."It bothers me that law enforcement is less interested in finding out the facts than covering up for each other," Mrs. Vanderbur said.


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