A garden for sharing sorrows grows in Upper Marlboro


Norm Workman (left) and Rick Wiggs sit together after Saturday's dedication of a remembrance garden outside the Prince George's Judicial Center in Upper Marlboro on April 27. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist April 30, 2013

Marie Workman and Sharon Wiggs did not know each other in life. In death, their names are just a few feet apart, engraved on bricks set in a remembrance garden that was dedicated Saturday afternoon in Upper Marlboro.

As you would expect of something organized by the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, it was a solemn occasion. The people who were there had all lost someone to violent crime. But it was oddly happy, too. It was a chance to remember loved ones whose deaths were sad but whose lives were not.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

It was a time to ink their names on wooden hearts and tie those hearts to a red maple tree. It was a time to write messages on balloons — “Mary, we will never forget you!” “To Mom and Tony, Forever loved” — then watch as the balloons lifted into the sky, became tiny points of white and purple, then disappeared.

And it was a time to be with some of the only people who can understand what it’s like to be you.

Norm Workman and Rick Wiggs embraced when they saw each other. In 1984, Norm’s wife was murdered in their Silver Spring apartment while watching their toddler daughter and two neighbors’ children. In 1992, Rick’s wife was murdered by a shotgun-wielding man who came to the door of their Clinton home. Rick was shot, too, and still bears the scars.

Support groups organized by the MCVRC helped them sort through their anger and their sadness. They have each gone on to help others.

The support groups have been invaluable for Charlotte Gray, too. Her son, Edward Gray Jr., was murdered in the District in 1999. What do you say to someone visited by such violence?

“A lot of family and friends say, ‘Let’s talk about something else,’ ” Charlotte said.

“The whole concept of murder is uncomfortable to talk about,” agreed Bill Morris, whose son Evan was stabbed to death in Philadelphia in 2011.

Here in the Garden of Remembrance, everyone understands.

Bill and his wife, Paula, are architects, and they designed the garden, which is outside the Prince George’s County Justice Center. The garden was constructed with help from McHale Landscape Designs, Simpson of Maryland, Dirt Plus, Priority Construction Corp., Chaney Enterprises Foundation, Capital Brick & Tile, B&N Construction and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. It also had the support of Sheila Tillerson Adams, administrative judge of Prince George’s Circuit Court. Benches were made and donated by Maryland inmates.

The Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center was founded in 1982. Back then, it was called the Stephanie Roper Committee and Foundation. Norm remembers taking a road trip before Marie was killed. They stopped at a gas station in Southern Maryland, and the attendant asked if they would sign a petition in support of victims’ rights. The petition was inspired by the case of Stephanie Roper, a 21-year-old Frostburg State senior who was kidnapped, raped and murdered after her car broke down on a country road in Prince George’s County.

“I never thought that type of tragedy would come to our door,” Norm said.

And then one awful day it did. “You’re initiated into a club you never wanted to belong to,” he said.

Nearly as bad was what happened after that. Norm was barred from the trial of the man charged with — and eventually convicted of — killing his wife. Defense attorneys argued that the sight of a grieving husband would prejudice the jury. Norm’s needs and desires seemed inconsequential to the court. That’s the attitude the center has successfully fought to change.

(The man tried in Sharon Wiggs’s death was acquitted. But he has been charged with second-degree murder in the recent arson that killed a 4-year-old District girl.)

Saturday was especially bittersweet for Roberta Roper, Stephanie’s mother and co-founder of the center with her husband, Vince. Stephanie’s name was on a brick. So was the name of Roberta’s first granddaughter, Samia Roper, killed by a drunk driver in 2004.

Vince died on April 4, a day after the couple received a citation in Annapolis from Gov. Martin O’Malley for their work on behalf on victims. Vince was 79 — “a young 79,” Roberta was quick to point out — when he had a massive heart attack. He died in his bed.

That’s the way we all should go. For those who don’t — those taken by blade or by bullet — there are blank bricks waiting in a garden in Upper Marlboro. No one who was there on Saturday would welcome a single additional name.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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