Into the Water: Afterword
“Death ends a life but not a relationship.” Jack Lemmon
It was not easy to find the spot in King George County where Sofia Silva’s bundled body lay for more than a month after her disappearance. I searched the side of the highway in vain for a sign marking the entrance to Dominion Growers. The ownership had changed since the fall of 1996. It was now Village Farmers and instead of filling the world with flowers, they produced tomatoes by the ton.
I turned by the old red barn near the highway and rolled down the small road until I was out of sight of the unending line of cars and trucks stroking down State Route 3. I could not pull completely off the road–the drop on both sides was too precipitous.
I stood on the sloping hill of grass, mere feet from the spot where Sofia rested for thirty-six days. Beyond the gates to the commercial farm, I saw the bustling of people and trucks going about the business of growing food for tables up and down the mid-Atlantic coast. Distance made the sound of their efforts inaudible. The huge glass front of the main building stared down on me like the eye of God. I did not understand how anyone could stand in that spot and not get the prickly premonition of being watched—and being judged.
The sun streamed down brightly. The muffled sound of the traffic roaring by on Route 3 and the babble of birds filled the air. A pungent whiff of stagnant water assaulted my nose—pulling my eyes back to the edge of the woods.
A small white cross marked the spot where Sofia’s body was found–a lonely, weatherworn sentinel guarding her memory, lest we forget. The sun shone brightly on its surface. The trees hanging above dappled it with shadows. Carved into the cross bar were these words: “In God’s Arms Forever.”
I moved closer and peered beyond the cross. To a break in the poison ivy, I spotted a body of water, its surface stained an iridescent green. I could visualize the ripples of Sofia’s death spreading across it.
In the first circle were her mother and father, Phyllis and Umberto Silva. It is unnatural for parents to outlive the child. Anyone who has suffered this loss through illness, suicide or accident can understand some measure of the pain of these parents. But no one except those who of lost a child to homicide can fathom the depths of their agony. The daily reminders of the empty place at the table. The empty bed in the room down the hall. The haunting horror of imagining her suffering in the last moments of her life. The guilt of not being there. The wistful thoughts of: What would she be doing now? Who would she be? What impact would the passage of time have on the features of her face? On her happiness? On her heart? The wondering never ceases the pain never ends.
In the next ripple emanating from the center were the other family members and close friends of Sofia. Their lives were altered forever by her death. In good times, they felt blessed to a known her. In bad times, they struggled to banish her from their thoughts and regain a moment of innocence.
Close after them was another ring containing the people who found the body—their dreams haunted by visions of that discovery. They agonize about being so close to her for so many days, deaf and blind to the cries for justice emanating from her shallow, watery grave.
Then came the circle of the investigators, forensic specialists and others involved in the resolution of this case. For more than 5 1/2 years, they struggled to find the right answers. What young innocent was the victim the emotional toll on them as staggering. Years later, the pain still scratched across their voices with the dissonance of a needle traveling across the grooves of a 78 on an old Victrola.
In the next liquid echo was the community at large. In a place like Spotsylvania, there are a few degrees of separation between each of its citizens. If someone did not know the victim or the victim’s family, they knew someone who did — a friend who went to school with one of them or knew them through business transactions or attended the same church. Sophia’s death robbed them of their sense of security and crippled their ability to trust.
In the next circle were the suspects of the crime and their family members. The suspects themselves often were not sympathetic individuals—many brought their fates down upon themselves either by criminal activity or stubborn, foolish decisions. But the families of these suspects were often innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire—like Elizabeth Roush, whose burden was incomprehensible: her daughter abducted and murdered and then 16 years later, her son charged with committing the same crime on another young victim.
That ring was followed by the ripple of the family of Richard Marc Evonitz. They did not commit the crime. Yet they felt the finger of guilt poking in their chest Richard and Barbara Evonitz, Marc’s uncle and aunt living in the community where the murders took place were hounded by the media and isolated by the name they shared with the killer.
Then came the final circle. It contained all of us who were aware of what happened—who cared in principle about the loss of life. The impact of Sofia’s death or our lives was subtle. But it was real.
Finding the spot where the bodies of Kristin and Kati Lisk had floated unseen for days with even a greater challenge. State Route 738 turned and forked without advance warning. Some twists in the road were not marked at all. At others, signs knocked askew by impact or weather pointed in the wrong direction.
On my map, the road ended at U.S. 1. But when I reach that intersection, I saw that it continued on. And so did I. I did not know how to find the exact bridge on that long and narrow route except by traveling to where it ended in doubling back for one mile.
I crossed several bridges without pause, but as my tires forded one bridge, my heart raced, and dread became my passenger. I did not know if the sensation was born of imagination or if my subconscious had snatched up a vestige of the sorrow from the past. One mile later, the road ended in a graveled intersection. That was the bridge I had sought. I turned the car around and made the short pilgrimage back.
I stood on the bridge in Hanover County. I heard no sound but the sluggish trickle of the impotent river as it coursed beneath my feet. The sun that hit my body contained no warmth. The flattened carcass of the snake, its shiny colors muted by death, stretched across the roadway like an omen of doom.
Standing there, my breath came in fits and starts. Ice crystals formed in the pit of my stomach. The hair of my arms semaphored warnings to my heart. I stood in the wild, rural version of an unlit city alley on the bad side of town. It was a dark and dreadful place that I did not want to enter alone.
On one side of the bridge, a wooden cross, its grain poking through red, faded paint, marked the spot were Kristin and Kati floated side by side. A white rag doll angel embraced the old rugged cross. Two sets of rosary beads wrapped around the wood. A pair of white angels and a pink puppy sat on the cross bar.
Beyond that cross, I gazed into the water below. Logs, twigs and debris ganged up by the bridge forming putrid green pools. Brown water oozed by the constricted space. There, too, I saw the ripples in the water caused by the deaths of Kristin and Kati.
The inner circle contained different people, Ron and Patti Lisk, whose agony was doubled by the loss of both their children. Their hearts battered. Their spirits broken. Their grief infinite up a.
As the ripples caused by the death of these two sisters emanated out from the center, they overlapped with those formed by the death of Sofia—the amount of duplication increasing in a geometric progression as they traveled farther from the center.
The violent deaths of three innocent girls created circles upon circles of pain, transformation and loss. In and of themselves, their deaths were a cataclysmic tragedy.
But most tragic of all is the sure knowledge that, day after day, in one community after another, the ripples are forming again.