- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

Teenage sniper Lee Boyd Malvo escaped the death penalty last week, but the children of last year’s sniper victims are still caught in a cycle of anger and grief.

“Yeah, I’m mad, but I don’t want to kill [Malvo and Muhammad] and go shooting innocent people,” says Andrea Walekar, 25, daughter of Premkumar Walekar. Mr. Walekar, 54, was fatally shot while filling his cab with gas in Aspen Hill on the morning of Oct. 3, 2002.

A jury in Chesapeake, Va., last week recommended that Malvo, 18, be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his role in the death of Linda Franklin. A three-week sniper spree last year left 10 dead and three wounded in the Washington area. Defense attorneys portrayed Malvo as an abandoned child in need of a parental figure and vulnerable to the mind control of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad.

Malvo is a suspect in the other D.C.-area sniper shootings and nine other shootings in five states. These crimes have robbed 19 children of their parents. The oldest is in her late 30s; the youngest is a 2-year-old girl. Their grief is sometimes overwhelming, but they have tried to respond positively.

Since her father’s murder, Miss Walekar has graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in economics and started a job in human resources and recruiting at a major bank’s headquarters in downtown Baltimore.

When she gets discouraged, Miss Walekar says, she thinks about her father, who was born in Puna, India. She calls him her angel. “He’s watching over us,” she said.

As for Malvo, who will turn 19 in February, Miss Walekar says, “I do feel bad for him, but I think he should still know the difference between right and wrong. … He should have talked to somebody and told them he needed help.”

Miss Walekar says Malvo should receive life in prison because she views it as a worse punishment than death. She says that if Muhammad was the only person from whom Malvo ever felt love, “I feel sorry for him because that’s not love. Muhammad was using him.”

Mr. Walekar’s son, Andrew, 24, has worked in computer programming for several years. Since his father’s death, he has returned to college to get a degree, something his father had always wanted him to do.

Andrew, who has shied away from talking publicly, thinks death is the appropriate punishment for Muhammad and Malvo, Miss Walekar says.

“He has a lot of anger towards them,” she says.

Emotions are still raw also for Lori Lewis Rivera’s husband, Nelson, and the couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Jocelin. Mr. Rivera had to place Jocelin in full-time day care after Mrs. Rivera, 25, was fatally shot while vacuuming a minivan in Kensington on Oct. 3, 2002. She was shot within two hours of Mr. Walekar’s slaying.

“[Jocelin]’s not doing too good. She misses her mom a lot,” Mr. Rivera says. “Not one day passes that she doesn’t mention her mom. … It is very difficult to me. It’s hard to see her crying and saying, ‘I want my mommy.’”

Jocelin, who will turn 5 on Jan. 14, has showed signs of resolve. She has told her father she wants to be a doctor “because she’s going to take care of me,” Mr. Rivera says. This year, when Mr. Rivera hesitated to set up a Christmas tree, Jocelin pushed him to do it.

“She said, ‘Now I’m going to decorate the Christmas tree because it was my mom’s job, but now I’m going to do it because she’s not here,’” Mr. Rivera says.

Kenneth H. Bridges, 53, was the father of six. On his way back to his home in Philadelphia after a business meeting in Virginia, he was shot in the back while pumping gas in Massaponax, Va., on Oct. 11, 2002.

He left behind his wife, Jocelyn, sons Justin, 21, Joshua, 17, and daughters Aja, 25, April, 23, Alana, 16, and Alyssa, 13.

Mr. Bridges planned to start a radio show to coincide with his new business venture, the Matah Network, a distribution company for products made by black entrepreneurs.

Determined to see their father’s vision fulfilled, Justin and April have taken to the airwaves, doing a radio show on WURD-AM (Radio 1080) in Philadelphia each Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m.

When reached at the radio station, April said the Bridges family is not doing any interviews.

Katrina Hannum, 24, lost her mother, Mrs. Franklin, 47, on Oct. 14, 2002, when the FBI analyst was gunned down outside a Falls Church Home Depot.

“My mother did a wonderful job raising us by herself. I didn’t have a father figure,” Mrs. Hannum said during her testimony in Malvo’s trial.

Mrs. Hannum, who was pregnant with her first child at the time of her mother’s killing, attended every day of Muhammad’s and Malvo’s trials to represent her mother and to remind both snipers of the human toll of their crimes.

“I have to be here. [Muhammad] has to see me here,” she said during the Muhammad trial in Virginia Beach, where a jury last month recommended he be sentenced to death.

Next month, Miss Walekar and her mother, Margaret, will make their second trip to India since Mr. Walekar was killed.

He and his wife had purchased a house in their hometown of Puna shortly before his death, and planned to move back there soon.

Miss Walekar says that when her father was in India, “he was really relaxed. He didn’t want to come back when he was there.” She and her mother traveled to India last January, which was the first time many of their relatives had seen them since Mr. Walekar’s death.

“That was really hard,” she says. “You need both your parents in your life. Those people are the most important people in your life, and they give you a good foundation that determines how a person turns out.”

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