Or is it only possible in fiction romance?
Today is a special day. A painful day. Today I dedicate my blog to anyone who has been lost to violent crime, and to those who have loved and lost anyone to violent crime.
On this day 8 years ago my family lost a very special young man to a brutal, senseless murder.
Of course, I know we aren’t the only ones who lost Jonathan Dewayne Shryock, but I’m speaking on my family’s loss.
Who was John? John was a vibrant boy I first met when my oldest daughter fell head over big toe for the brown haired, blue-eyed fourteen year old. When he had just turned fifteen she finally got the nerve to talk to him. They were in ninth grade, with a whole life ahead of them, yet she knew ‘he was the one’.
Did I mention he was a paternal twin? His twin was daughter’s best friend before John ever spoke to her. But John was the one to become a semi-permanent fixture around our house. And so it went through the next few years.
John practically lived at my house even after he dropped out of school and went to work. I taught him to drive- he took his driver’s test in my van, with the emergency brake on- I tutored him in continuation school (until he finally left that too). He helped hubby around the house, helped me ride my horse, I was breaking at that time, for the first time. He built fence, went to work a few times with hubby, washed dishes, repaired vehicles (all to be near daughter)… John was, for all intents and purposes, the son hubby and I never had- for three short years.
She and he became serious and he gave her a promise ring for Christmas when she was seventeen, after his insistence that I approve his ring choice. They hiccuped the relationship through the next few months.
He brought her home at Christmas that year after her visit, and he was so tall and filled out. Buff, muscular, deep voiced. Our little boy had somehow become a man in the months they’d spent apart! In January she spent New Years with him at his place. A couple of weeks later she spent a couple of days with him and he brought her home on Friday night. He had to work the next day but he’d be back.
Saturday night, January 18, 2002.
He came by to see her and hung out, teased, acted like the teenage boy I’d helped his mother raise. But he had to go meet friends and hang out because he’d promised. Daughter and I watched The Butterfly Effect (1) and she talked to him on the phone half the time. Yes, he was with friends; at the automotive store, a restaurant, his mom’s house… But his mind and heart was with my daughter.
He called her at 10:30 and then she fell asleep. He’d call her again when he got back at his mom’s around midnight, he promised, to say goodnight.
Daughter woke briefly at 1:59. He hadn’t called but she knew he would and she went back to sleep.
Husband and I were jerked from sleep at 5:25 a.m. with three words spoken through my daughter’s heartbroken tears. Words that haunt me to this day.
“Mom, John’s dead.”
What does a mother say? Do? When her daughter’s future has just crashed and burned in a single phone call from her best friend, her boyfriend’s twin?
There would be no funeral, no memorial to acknowledge his passing, or his time here with us. His mother couldn’t do that, even though we offered, our church offered, to host and do anything to help her say goodbye to her baby child. John was the youngest of four. Two sets of twins instantly cut to one and a half living sets of twins.
Two days later she changed her mind and we worked to put it together. Over 300 people attended the two hour ceremony to remember and say good-bye to John Shryock that Friday, January 24th. On Saturday night we did a ‘Cruise For John’ with John’s twin driving his beloved white Talon, the funeral wreath, John’s picture still attached, mounted on the hood. Daughter followed him in her beloved black Talon.
We drove through Modesto, California with over 50 vehicles and others joined and left as we cruised the town he knew, one last time. There was no news media, and oddly not a single police car to be seen that night on the main drag of the town, the very McHenry strip made famous in the movie, American Graffiti. And yet, in our hearts, that was to be the most famous cruise in our generations.
We didn’t acknowledge red lights or stop signs, and it seemed every car on the strip that night somehow just ‘knew’, even though the event had not been broadcast prior to, but set up at the memorial the night before. They patiently missed their own green lights, or joined the cruise, horns blaring, emergency lights flashing (as we all did). All of us had a ‘remembrance’ window decal in full view and those closest to John had a picture of him posted on our vehicles, car ink on most declared why we were there. It took over an hour for all of us to take the strip from one end to the other.
To this day our family can’t listen to the Puff Daddy song, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’, re-written and dedicated to his fallen rapper friend, Notorious BIG. It was the ‘good –bye’ song at his funeral, with a special poem written for John by his bff for the occasion, overlaid in it. I still have my cd copy which has never been played. I don’t need to play it.
A week after his death, daughter confided to her dad and me that John had proposed to her on New Years Eve. They had planned to get married that summer.
So what happened? He met with friends who had, earlier in the night, decided it would be fun to throw eggs at vehicles. He arrived after the last egg had been thrown, but apparently one of the friends had hit a gangster’s car and they came back to clean up. One of the gangsters chased one boy while one of the other two grabbed another. John went to the rescue of that friend instead of running to save his own life. The gangster had a knife, John kicked the guy in the head and the friend got away and ran. John ran but the third gangster got into a fist fight with John near the entry of the daycare. He was cornered when the second one returned with a steel post and came up behind John. He hit him in the back and head, while the other held him.
Before the gangsters gave up, the last one ran over, with his knife, to a fallen John and stabbed him several times in the lower back and leg (for kicking him). One of those stabs hit John’s femoral artery. This stabbing happened, according to one friend who witnessed from behind bushes nearby (as John yelled out for help), at 1:58 a.m., one minute before daughter had awoke and went back to sleep. The police were called during this time, but it was several minutes before the detective first on the scene arrived. He had been nearby and they said it only took him four minutes from the call to get there. He applied one of the now-returned friend’s belts as a tourniquet but John had already lost too much blood in the past minutes. I think it was reported that he died in his friend’s arms at 2:03, five minutes after the lethal stab. Though he was ‘declared’ dead at 2:20 when he arrived at the hospital.
Our only comfort at the time was when the coroner said he likely didn’t feel the pain of death because the blow to his head made that impossible. I don’t know how true that is, but I choose to believe that. The only other alternative is that he suffered all the pain as his life bled out.
What happened to his killers? They were all arrested within three months, and a year later John’s trial was knocked down to a plea bargain or the trial had to begin jury selection again. Their ‘confessions’ that they ‘accidentally’ killed him in anger filled the plea bargain ticket- all because of a ‘dirty’ juror sent in to cause a hung jury. They had been overheard at a bar, before any of this, planning to ‘find some trouble’. The three killers- The one who hand fought John got time served and walked that day (after his Romanian grandmother ‘spat’ at John’s mother in the court room). The one with the steel post got 6 years for assault w/intent to do harm (his girlfriend looked at us and laughed). The stabber got 8-12 years for manslaughter (and he was on probation at the time of John’s death-for injuring someone else with a knife two weeks before John). Nope, no murder charges, no ‘life in prison’. They are probably all on the streets today– while John’s ashes remain at his mother’s house, in an Angel urn, with a tiny tea cup necklace he’d given daughter when he first asked her out at fifteen. Is that justice? I don’t know. He’s dead, they are going on with their lives…
Can there be a happy ever after once real tragedy strikes a relationship like this? Is it only in fiction?
It was two years later when my (then future) son in-law found her. Ironically, he was a friend of John’s only sister’s boyfriend. Daughter lived with her, and one day her future walked in and never left.
She’s the mother of two of our four granddaughters this year, and he’s the father, and that makes us all happy. That she had gone through more than any 18 year old should and made it out the other side a whole person is a miracle in itself. That she now (ironically) works in a prison shows how strong she is- when so many of the case files she deals with, the families she is required to speak with, are those of murderers.
I dedicate this post to my daughter. For her strength and the ability to let go of the past and build a bright and happy future that doesn’t include shadows of ‘what might have beens’, I admire her.
I take this time now to thank all of my sons in-law for being the true heroes to my heroic daughters, and my husband for being my rock of strength.
I ask you, is there HEA after real tragedy? Who do you admire? Why?
The true definition of irony: Be careful of the friends you choose because they might get you killed. ~ John Shryock, 9 yo – school assignment~