Gun Violence, It’s Personal: Part 4

This is the fourth of five posts in a series on the personal impact of gun violence. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

We buried George on a bitterly cold day in February with a frigid Arctic wind howling down from the north. On the drive back from the cemetery, there was an empty seat in the limousine where George would ordinarily have sat. I imagined him there, watching us cry and wondering what had happened. His death had been sudden for us but had to have been even more abrupt for him: the men bursting into the room, a few moments of panic and confusion, then the shot. Just a few minutes, really.

Beth David Cemetery, Elmont Long Island

Beth David Cemetery

I also remembered the last of the tumultuous dreams I had experienced on the night he died. While most had left me only with inchoate feelings of chaos, turmoil and anguish, the last one had been perfectly clear.

It began as a standard anxiety dream: I was late for work and needed to shower and dress but I had no clothes to wear and could not find the shower. Then I was standing outside on a dirt road in a winter landscape. In front of me was a large square hole filled with brownish water. People around me urged me to get in and take a bath so I could get to work. The water was hot but the ground around it was frozen and covered with snow. I refused because I said that the cold ground would suck the heat out of the water. I didn’t’ want to let them see it but I was afraid to step in, knowing that my bath would turn cold and steal all my body heat. I would freeze in that hole. Make of that what you will.

We came back to a cold apartment on the 20th floor of the apartment building, with refreshments for the funeral party laid out by a neighbor. That high up over Manhattan, the wind roared. We talked, we cried, we tried to say good-bye. It was my birthday.

The Hole in Our Lives

George’s death left a hole in all our lives—one that could not possibly be filled. Sarah declined steadily afterward, descending into Alzheimer ’s disease. We could not take care of her from Massachusetts so we moved her to an assisted living residence in Massachusetts, a step I wrote about in a previous post on parental care. One day I went out to walk in the garden at New Horizons and another resident approached me. Introducing the subject carefully she asked me whether it was true that Sarah’s son had been murdered. Clearly she—and some of the others—had thought this story the confabulation of a disturbed mind. I told her that it was, indeed, true so that they would all know the facts. Sarah died a few years later and I have no doubt that her son’s murder contributed to her decline. George missed her funeral, of course, but she lies next to him in Beth David cemetery on Long Island.

George also missed the high school and college graduations of his niece and nephew as well as our 25th wedding anniversary, for which he was planning to throw one of his memorable parties. More anniversaries have flowed under the bridge since then, along with birthdays and other celebrations, all without him. He missed his niece’s wedding and the birth of two grand-nieces.  He has also not been present for numerous weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, funerals, parties and other events in his extended family.

At a cousin’s wedding soon after his death, I was sitting next to Sarah as neither of us was feeling particularly social, even during a joyous occasion. The band began to play “Sunrise, Sunset” and the lyrics were painful to hear: 

(Tevye)
Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?

(Golde)
I don’t remember growing older
When did they?

(Tevye)
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?

(Golde)
Wasn’t it yesterday
When they were small? 

I was having trouble keeping my composure but I didn’t want to spoil the celebration by crying. Then I looked over at Sarah who was weeping into her dinner napkin. I put my arm around her and we just cried together.

The family is not the only group that misses him. He had many friends and was a strong supporter of Temple Emmanuel in Manhattan. While other members of the congregation had their Thanksgiving dinners at home, George cooked dozens of turkeys and many other dishes to feed the homeless their holiday meal. When his best friend’s father died unexpectedly, leaving her distraught, George planned and ran the funeral. He threw parties in happy times and helped out when there was trouble. He gave his time, energy and skills to anyone who needed them without asking for recompense in any form. Over four hundred people filled the temple at his funeral.The world has been a poorer place without him in it.

The Follow-Up 

The Manhattan homicide detectives worked hard on George’s case and caught the four thieves who were responsible. All of them claimed not to have pulled the trigger, unfamiliar as they were with the New York State’s rules on felony murder. These state that a person “. . . may be guilty of second-degree felony murder as an accomplice of the actual killer.” One of the thieves turned state’s evidence and gave up the other three.

  • The one who shot George was convicted of first-degree murder, intentional murder, possession of an illegal handgun, and armed robbery, each term to run consecutively rather than concurrently. Total: 75 years, with no parole. He showed no remorse at sentencing, and will die in prison.
  • The restaurant’s busboy who concocted the plot got 25 years to life, of which he must serve 25 years before becoming eligible for parole.
  • The second man in the safe room, called “Fulo,” or white boy, received 23 years to life because the judge credited him with time served on Rikers Island. He was 19, and must serve the 23 years before becoming eligible for parole (we will be attending that parole hearing sometime over the next year to ask that they deny his request).
  • The fourth man, the driver who lost the keys to the getaway car, was extradited back to Panama after serving eight years. We later learned that he had been killed there.

crime scene tapeAnd for what? That day’s receipts at Giggles were not very big: over $18,500—less than $5,000 apiece. For that they ended George’s life and destroyed their own, as well as the lives of their own families. Because they had a gun and they wanted to use it.

What About the Gun?

What about that gun? New York is a state with tough gun control laws so how did these four street thugs from Brooklyn get their hands on a .357 Magnum with bullets and a six-inch barrel? The answer is convoluted, but all too common: It came from the home of a Delaware man, who owned it legally. When burglars robbed his house, they took the gun. At that point, it went into the black market and through a number of hands as it made its way to New York. That’s all it takes.

Tomorrow, I’ll finish up this series of posts so I can move on to other subjects. I needed to share this story but I look forward to writing about other things and lighter topics.

Organizations to Promote Gun Safety

Please note that these organizations don’t advocate gun control. They are in favor of better safety around gun ownership and greater security for everyone.

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