On Christmas Day Navy Capt. and Mrs. John E. Sherman Sr. of Springfield unwrapped the turntable that 18-year-old John Sherman Jr. and his brother and sister had bought for them. His sister, Helen, 15, had wrapped it the previous night.
But it was not a time for celebration. The younger Sherman had died Christmas Eve, eight days after he was shot in the head during a robbery while working as an attendant at a Springfield service station.
John Sherman Jr., a graduate of Robert E. Lee High School who was a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College, was shot on his second night on the job. He had taken that job to earn money for college and for the Christmas presents he wanted to give his family and his girlfriend, his father said yesterday.
John Jr. was in a coma at Fairfax Hospital virtually from the time he was shot.
"He was dead from the time the bullet entered his brain, really," his mother, Anne Sherman, said yesterday. "But I guess we just weren't ready to accept that until the last minute.
"And our daughter said 'If we don't have faith in him, and hope, how can we expect him to live?' So we waited for a miracle."
Since the death, the family has been concentrating on coping with the trauma. They spoke yesterday with quiet restraint, and said that they were concentrating now on avoiding bitterness and bringing consolation to their younger children, ages 15 and 10.
"It's kind of hard for them when they're young. They don't understand," Anne Sherman said. "But then, I can't understand either, at all, and I'm not that young."
What is known is that at 7:25 p.m. on the evening of Dec. 16, a man, about 6 feet and 190 pounds and wearing a ski mask, entered the office of the Springfield Amoco service station at 6703 Backlick Rd., where Sherman and his best friend were working.
The intruder demanded money. Sherman was sitting on a chair when the robber, after receiving the money, fired one bullet into the floor and, after taking aim, shot Sherman in the head, according to Fairfax police.
The robber fled with an undetermined amount of money, dropping his ski mask and about $200 as he ran into the darkness, police said.
Sherman's friend, who was unharmed, quit immediately after the incident. He could not be reached for comment.
Fairfax police said yesterday they had no suspect in the slaying in the affluent county, where there have been fewer than a dozen homicides this year.
Police said that a $13,000 reward has been posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of John Sherman Jr.'s killer.
The money was put up by the police's crime-solvers program, the owners of the gas station, and an anonymous donor.
Sherman planned to use part of his earnings for the turntable he and his younger sister and brother had decided they would give their parents for Christmas, Anne Sherman recounted yesterday.
The surviving children never told their parents what the present was, and it came as a surprise to the elder Shermans on Christmas Day.
They said they felt it was important to accept it for the children's sake " because it really was a present from all of them."