This past Friday we received a call from Washington police giving us the heads up that a warrant would soon be sent out and an arrest made in the murder of our daughter Chandra Levy. The moment that police contacted us we felt a surge of energy that we haven’t felt in many years. There is a strange feeling in knowing that the man who killed Chandra was a “person of interest” from the start and yet we are relieved to know that he will finally be held responsible for what he has done.
There is no greater tragedy that can befall a parent than having to bury one's own child. In our case, this tragedy was compounded with the nation watching every new development since Chandra disappeared in the spring of 2001. And now, as it appears the search for her killer has finally come to an end, all the emotion of the past eight years has bubbled up to the surface of both of us again.
It hurt to watch a trusted elected official do everything in his power to deter police efforts and show a complete disregard for the investigation into Chandra’s disappearance.
We will always have to live with the intense pain of knowing we will never see Chandra alive again. Never see her marry a man she loves. Never see her bring her own children into the world. It has taken every moment of our lives since she first left us to come to grips with this unbearable reality. The vigils, prayer services and memorial that were held for Chandra provided little of the solace that many promised. Instead, each was a stark reminder of the void that our family would forever feel and the violence that exists in this world which destroyed our daughter.
There was an intense anger that brew within each of us, as our daughter’s body remained undiscovered for more than a year after she disappeared. When you’re confronted by tragedy like this you find yourself looking around for someone to blame. And because it has taken this long to find Chandra’s killer, we’ve found other places to direct our frustrations. As we’ve worked as a family to survive this terrible saga, it has been difficult to see our daughter made the subject of punditry and debate in media throughout the nation. The media sometimes has a way of detaching from the humanity of a story and forgetting the people actually affected by the news they cover. Chandra’s case presented all the intrigue and mystery that the media hungers for and for this reason some of their coverage had been insensitive and politically charged. Meanwhile Congressman Gary Condit dodged direct questions about Chandra and seemed solely focused on salvaging what was left of his political career. We’ve had to come to terms with Chandra’s relationship with Condit and realize that it played a major role in the coverage of the case. However, it hurt to watch a trusted elected official do everything in his power to deter police efforts and show a complete disregard for the investigation into Chandra’s disappearance.
Our entire family has been affected by this crisis. For instance, when our son began narrowing his choices for college we couldn’t help but worry about seeing another child leave home. It wasn’t anything that he had done; only our response to knowing another child was away from the security of home. We now are acutely aware of the perils of the world and thought that we had to protect our child from the type of darkness that Chandra’s death exposed us to.
In an instant, your entire life can change. And when it does, you find yourself looking for someone with answers. Yet, when Chandra went missing it seemed that only questions remained. It was some time before the police truly gained a handle on the search for Chandra and in many ways we believed that our efforts weren’t always in synch. After a year had passed and police still had not found Chandra, we began to lose faith that they would ever help bring a close to this nightmare. On May 22, 2002, Chandra’s body was found in Washington’s Rock Creek Park and our incredible ordeal took a drastic turn.
It’s difficult to explain the way we felt when Chandra was finally found. In some ways, we now had closure for putting her to rest and giving Chandra the respect she deserved. And yet, certain that our daughter would not be coming home alive; we now were driven by a more intense mission to find her killer and bring justice to this case. As Washington police continued their investigation, we remained consistently engaged in their findings and the efforts of our own private detectives. Over the past six years, there have been hundreds of leads and countless moments when we believed the case had finally been solved. There came a time when we had to accept the possibility that we would never find Chandra’s killer. We would redirect our focus towards honoring her life and never forgetting the joy she brought to our family.
Each of us has had to cope with our loss differently. My husband Bob finds comfort in his work. He has had to subdue the guilt that any father would feel in knowing he wasn’t able to protect his daughter. These incidents are so unique that you can’t help but feel a natural bond with other families that have shared your experiences. Over the years, we have drawn strength from the caring words and thoughts we’ve received from parents who’ve also lost children. As some time passed we began to realize the good that could come from Chandra’s death. We have worked closely with Wings of Protection to give support to other families of missing persons and educate the public. We have found a way to channel our pain and build a community of people dedicated to empowering themselves in tragedy. When we made the decision to no longer allow ourselves to be victims a burden was lifted and we began to feel free of the horror that had been inflicted upon our family.
And now we’ve found ourselves at another crossroads.
People always ask whether we will ever be able to find closure. From my perspective closure is for observers. Over time people want to move on and try to forget the way that these kinds of crimes make them feel. But for a parent there can be no closure from this, but we know that Chandra would want us to find solace and not spend the remainder of our days tormented and vengeful. Chandra did not live her life that way and we have committed ourselves to an outlook that gives us peace and allows us to forever honor the memory of our daughter Chandra Levy.
Susan Levy is the mother of Chandra Levy, who was murdered in 2001.
Wing of Protection is a 501(c) was founded in 2001. The advocacy group began when Susan Levy and Donna Raley, stepmother of homicide victim Dena Raley, got together and decided to provide support for families like them. Wings of Protection assist families with liaisons for court proceedings, communications between police departments and media relations. We are crime victim advocates and since 2001 our work has helped many families. To reach Wings of Protection, contact Bonie Driskill via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at (209) 338-4140.
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