Some events refuse to fade from our consciousness. They linger in our memories, insinuate themselves into our value systems, shape the way we think about basic concepts such as home, love, innocence, and security. Moments that are either too wonderful or too awful to forget stay with us, to comfort or confound us as their context demands.
One such event from my youth was the murder of a school mate more than 30 years ago. She was a nice girl who dated a not-so-nice boy. She had a sweet smile and a soft voice. I will remember her forever with feathered bangs and the striped shirt that she wore in her 1977 school picture. The picture that her parents and police provided to the media during the brief search that ended with the chilling news that her body had been found.
It is that moment, six days after she went missing when we learned that she was dead, that haunts me. Death had come knocking before in the guise of old age, accident, even suicide. It wasn't death that left its mark, but something darker, stranger, far more terrifying. A girl who went to my school, walked the same hallways that I walked, sat in the same molded plastic desks, ate lunch in the same cafeteria, had been murdered. Brutalized, raped, and murdered. Until then, I had no idea that such things could really happen outside the pages of books or the dark, blighted alleys of the inner city.
Mary Irene Gency's murder changed the way we all thought about our town, our friends, the people down the street. Fear came to stay after that. I don't know if I ever felt really safe again. Especially since no one was ever charged, tried, or convicted of the crime.
But that may change. It seems that forensic evidence has provided police with a break in the case after 33 years. The men accused of committing this heinous crime, it turns out, are the two boys suspected at the time: her boyfriend, who lived down the street from me, and his best friend, who had dated one of my friends.
Time will tell whether they actually committed the crime. Justice may or may not be done. Regardless of what happens, one thing will never change: Mary died a horrible death, she was robbed of her innocence her life and whatever future she may have dreamed.
The news comes in part as a glimmer of hope that her family may find some peace and closure and in part as a new chilling reminder to embrace every minute as if were your last.
Mary, I do hope you're able to rest in peace.