Just as she has no plans to empty the boxes in the basement that hold Erin’s dorm room belongings, Celeste Peterson, 52, says she has no intention of changing the bedroom.
“That’s just our space,” she says. “That’s just our place where we cry, where we remember her.”
Mila Tecala, a clinical social worker who testified in the trial about both families’ grief, describes the death of a child as “the death of the future.” She says she worries about the Petersons and Prydes now that the trial is over.
“The lawsuit was giving them purpose and meaning,” says Tecala, who met with the families at the recommendation of Hall, with whom she co-authored a book.
But the legal wrangling isn’t over. The state attorney general’s office has not decided whether to appeal the verdict, and Hall has filed a motion seeking to circumvent the $100,000 cap on damages, asking for $2 million per family from the state’s risk-management plan. Just this past Friday, in a separate legal case, a judge dismissed a $55,000 fine that had been imposed on Virginia Tech by the U.S. Education Department for failing to issue a timely warning to students.
Grafton Peterson, 53, says it doesn’t matter what happens in the courts next. He has accepted that the families will never get some answers — or an apology from university officials.
“They may not ever say they did wrong,” he says. “But deep down in their hearts, when they look in the mirror at themselves, they know they did a terrible thing.”
He has seen the online comments about his family and the Prydes: how they are greedy, how they are blinded by grief, how they should just let it go already.
“They talk about let it go,” he says. “Tell them to come by and take a walk upstairs and look at an empty room or go down to the basement and remember where all her stuff was or sit here eating . . .”
“And there’s no noise,” Celeste Peterson says, finishing his thought. “They can rock their grandchildren. They can plan weddings. The most elaborate thing that we were able to plan for Erin was a funeral.”
On Erin’s bed, a black long-limbed doll leans against a pillow. Celeste Peterson says it should be Erin’s stuffed bear, the one she carried with her as a child and later took to college.
“But Buster,” she says, “was buried with her.”
Research director Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.