Grandmother, Fran Baumgarner, has a simple Christmas wish for her family and her community — safety.
As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. But there are exceptions to this rule. For Baumgarner, the holidays are always bittersweet because her wounds run deep.
In July 2002, her daughter-in-law and grandson were killed during a domestic violence incident at a friend’s home. Alan Gates murdered his daughter, Valerie Gates; Baumgarner’s daughter-in-law, Cordae; and Baumgarner’s two-an-a-half-year-old grandson, Kendall. Alan Gates was looking for his estranged wife, Janet Gates, and he broke into the home and waited for her. The three people he killed simply got in his way. Gates is serving a life sentence for his crimes.
Baumgarner got the terrible news from Cordae’s mother.
“Both of our families were devastated.”
Baumgarner called her son, John, at work to tell him his son had been killed.
“He collapsed in the parking lot.”
Today, Kendall would be a teenager. Baumgarner tries to imagine what it would be like to have him in her life now. His birthday is Dec. 31, an annual reminder to her of a life with so much potential that was tragically cut short.
“He was just the sweetest thing. We loved him and he loved us.”
Baumgarner also misses Cordae terribly, especially at this time of year.
“She made the holidays even better, her smile, her laughter could light up a room. She was a bright light," she said. “It’s not right that they’re not at the table at Christmas. The loss is just unconscionable.”
As a result of the tragedy, Baumgarner has spent much of the past 13 years as a staunch supporter of stronger laws to protect victims of domestic violence. She also speaks whenever she is asked to by the Compass Center for Women and Families to give a survivor’s perspective.
Mostly, Baumgarner wants everyone to know that domestic violence is everyone’s business. Her daughter-in-law and grandson were not the targets of Gates’ anger, but they became his collateral damage.
“You can’t tell people what to do, but listen to them and then say, I’m concerned about your safety. I want you to be safe.”
Now, if you could only wrap this and put it under the tree …
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.