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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tyler and Susanne


A year ago today, Seth Binstead was on a dream trip to Europe when he was received an urgent message from his mother, his twin brother had been killed. So begins the story in the Times Dispatch of Tyler Binstead's murder in a Richmond park in the early morning hours of March 27th, 2008. He was out in Bird Park with his girlfriend at an hour and place few experienced Richmonders would wander, but Tyler was not even 20 and subject to the illusions and adventurous spirit that says you will never die, at least not now, and the danger only adds to the adventure.

I have been concerned with crime in Richmond since moving here 8 years ago. I, like many Richmonders, live cheek by jowl with some of the most crime ridden neighborhoods in the city. While our street or community may seem safe, mine less so, criminals, wanna be gangstas and young black teenagers cutting their chops by committing assaults and robberies, are not limited by neighborhood boundaries. In most cases these crimes are committed against their own and are ignored by most who don't care as long as they are killing each other, but every now and then a horrible crime reaches outside the projects and pockets of urban violence and touches the larger community and then we care. Then it's too late.


I was personally touched by the murder of Susanne Thompson five months earlier and intimately involved in her memorial. I didn't know Susanne or even that she was murdered till two days afterwards when I returned from an adventure trip of my own. I was having a grand time in my own little world when Susanne was attacked in broad daylight while walking her dog on Broad Street. Susanne, always nicely dressed, was wearing her customary costume jewelry. It was enough for her assailant to mistake her for a rich woman. He robbed and stabbed her without premeditation. It just seemed the thing to do. When I read of her murder Monday morning I felt stabbed and ashamed of my ignorance and did something I had no experience doing. I decided then and there this would not pass without our noting it. The one thing worse than a horrible murder is letting it pass unnoticed and unmourned for. I didn't know this woman, but she was part of my community. I felt I, we, had an obligation to honor and mourn her and I felt instinctively if I didn't do it, it wouldn't be done. I don't know how I managed, but with the grateful assistance from Unitarian minister Alane Miles, her mother, Laura Cameron and Rev. Chris Thomas, Susanne's pastor, we put together a public vigil in three days. I ran into a sad amount of skepticism that I had something to gain rather than to give by holding this ceremony. That is to be expected I suppose in this cynical world where people use tragedies for their own purpose. To my surprise I was able to rise above my own limitations and draw at least some of the community together. There were dogs, children and adults like me who didn't know Susanne, but wanted to show they cared and mourned her death along with her family. There was also staff of Heartsfelds Nursing Home where she was living. The funniest story I heard about Susanne was that despite her disabilities and her proper Presbyterian ways she loved "pro" wrestling and was a big fan of some of the old time greats. The other great part was that her dog Angie, was adopted by the Heartsfeld community and never had to leave the only home she knew. She was loved by the staff and residents and indirectly kept a little part of Susanne alive.

Well that was Susanne and now there was Tyler. Two people who were not part of the violent community they fell victim too. We said goodbye to Tyler in Bird Park near where he died. A small group gathered and listened to hymns and prayers I'm not sure he would have recognized. Politician and preachers spoke and the family stood quietly by. I got a chance to speak to his mother and I was shocked at how young she was. Young mothers shouldn't mourn the death of their children, but she had to. I thanked her for the gift of her son and apologized to her for not taking better care of him.

His brother Seth said it well in the RTD when he said that time doesn't always heal, it causes us to forget and steals our memories. Sooner or later it takes greater and greater effort to remember those we lost, especially the small details. What we don't forget is how much we love and miss them and the hole in the sky they leave behind.

There have been more before and since, but these were the two that affected me most. There are times to remember and there are times to forget. Now is a time to remember.

Related sites.

    RTD article on Tyler's murder

    Reverend Elaine Cameron Miles

    Susanne Thompson related posts

    RTD anniversary series on Tyler

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