I have been ill at ease ever since I learned the identity of the young woman who was killed in Fargo on November 23rd in the double murder perpetrated by David Stevens. That young woman was Sam Wickenheiser, a young woman I came to know back when she was a happy and energetic grade school child. Sam and her sister Jasmine were in my sign language group Kindred Spirits when I lived in Kindred and worked at Kindred School as a sign language interpreter. My memories of Sam are of a young girl who was a beaming source of unbridled joy. She was a bright light with so much love to give and an indomitable spirit.
Sam was 23 when she was murdered by David Stevens (age 35), the father of her two young children. From what I understand of this man he has a long history of mental health and substance abuse issues. He is, simply put, bad news.
The last time I saw Sam was well over a decade ago. Her life took many twists and turns since the days when I knew her. She got involved with the wrong guy and that ultimately was the death of her. Plenty of folks end up in rough places in their lives – places that can change their life trajectory – but, they typically have at least an opportunity to put their past behind them and turn their life around. It bothers me that Sam was not given the chance to turn the corner. It bothers me that the joy that lived in the child has been snuffed out before she could fully realize her potential as an adult.
It makes me ill at ease when I see how small choices and decisions in a young person’s life can result in dramatic consequences. I am reminded of the fragility of resilience for the already vulnerable. I think about the moments that if unwound might have resulted in a different outcome. It cannot be that the life of the child I knew was always going to end like this – at the hands of a violent man who professed to love her.
I have known others like Sam whose lives have ended tragically. Each time there were small choices and decisions that made them more vulnerable. In some cases there were signs that danger was near and in other cases it was only clear in retrospect. But in all cases the loss was tragic and left me feeling like the universe was set off balance a bit by the loss.
Sam was a lovely girl. She should have had the opportunity to move past the choices and decisions she regretted…she should have had the opportunity to live the life that she would have grown into…she should have had more time on this planet. But Sam was murdered at her home by a violent man who professed to love her. Her story should not have ended like that.
I am not one to scrub my mind of such things. Such losses remain in my psyche. I will see the kind of joy I saw in Sam in other children and I will wonder where life will take them in a decade. I will silently pray that all those small choices and decisions that may put them in harm’s way find their way into their middle-aged stories about youthful mistakes.
Day one thousand two hundred and forty-eight of the new forty – obla di obla da