- May 15, 2001: The Levys come to Washington. In Modesto, Calif., a victims' rights group holds a candlelight vigil for Chandra.
- May 17: The Levys hold a news conference, and the story goes national.
- May 18: Police draw up list of "suspect areas," including one labeled "C.M." for "congressman."
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Chandra Levy didn't show up for her graduation ceremony at the University of Southern California on May 11, 2001. Her parents were in agony, collapsing on their sofas, unable to sleep. They had not heard from their daughter for 10 days, and they believed that the police in Washington were not moving quickly enough to find her. They felt the police did not share their urgency, and they wanted answers.
For help, they turned to the Carole Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Modesto that was created after three hikers were found slain in Yosemite National Park in 1999. The group knew how to attract media attention, and on May 15 it held a candlelight vigil in Modesto. Organizers handed out Chandra's favorite candy: Reese's peanut butter cups.
The crisis forced the Levys to draw on a spiritual foundation they had spent a lifetime cultivating. With bushy eyebrows, receding salt-and-pepper hair and a kind smile, Robert Levy was a gentle soul, an oncologist grounded in science but captivated by New Age philosophy and various religious beliefs. His wife, Susan, was his muse - a tall, outdoorsy woman with high cheekbones and a hearty laugh who loved to ride horses, paint and sing.
The couple met at a mixer in 1968 while they were both students at Ohio State University. Robert Levy was an ROTC graduate and microbiologist who would go on to medical school. Susan Katz was an art education major. When he started his practice, Robert could choose among several cities that needed oncologists: Zanesville, Ohio; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Las Cruces, N.M.; Richmond, Va.; and Modesto, Calif. They picked Modesto out of a baseball cap.
By the time they moved, Chandra was 4. Soon, the family added a son, Adam. Robert Levy slowly built his practice and became known as "Last Chance Bob" for his aggressive yet holistic approach to treating cancer. Sometimes, he would come home after losing a patient and cry.
As Chandra and Adam grew up, the family traveled the world: Africa and Costa Rica, Israel, Jamaica and the Galapagos Islands. The parents delved deeply into spirituality, exploring their Judaism and blending in Buddhism, Pentecostalism and Hinduism.
With Chandra gone, none of it seemed to be helping. Robert and Susan hoped she would once again walk into their great room, which was adorned with Asian screens and stained-glass butterflies hung in windows high above the wooden floors. But their hope was fading.
The Levys concluded that the story of their missing daughter, which had received scant notice in Washington, needed national attention from the news media. On May 15, they flew to D.C. to press their case directly with the police and the media.
As they drove around the city, Robert Levy looked out the window. He knew it was crazy, but he was trying to catch a glimpse of his daughter. "I'm looking in the grass, in the trees," he recalled. The Levys visited Chandra's apartment. For 2 1/2 hours, they met with FBI agents and D.C. police officials, including lead Detective Ralph Durant and the chief of detectives, Jack Barrett.
A Washington Post story the day after their arrival described the couple as "fuming" at the lack of cooperation from the D.C. police. A friend told reporters that they had "no idea what's going on with the investigation."
Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer defended his department. Gregarious and smooth-talking, the former Chicago homicide detective told reporters that he understood the couple's frustrations. "They're looking for answers, and we don't have them yet," he said.