Dorothea Morefield stood alone in the walk-in refrigerator of a Roy Rogers Family Restaurant in Fairfax County, trying to understand what had happened. The bullet holes were still there.
Only a month earlier, on March 6, 1976, an armed holdup man ordered her oldest son and four other persons to lie face down in the refrigerator. Then he shot them, each in turn, in the head. Then he shot them again. Four died, including Rick Morefield, 19.
"It was something I had to do," recalled Morefield, whose husband Richard accompanied her to the scene of the killings 10 years ago. "I had to stand there. I had to get as close to it as I could. Certainly I couldn't know what he was thinking, but I wanted to see the place where he died."
That visit helped in the long run, said Morefield. Learning to face and accept the murders made the family's next crisis less difficult: Three years after Rick died, Richard Morefield, a career diplomat, was taken hostage in Iran and held for 444 days with more than 50 other Americans.
The Morefields, like the relatives of the others slain in the restaurant, have spent a decade surviving a tragedy described by authorities at the time as "perhaps the most significant criminal case in Fairfax County in this century."
"It was an enormous crime, no doubt about it," said Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. "I went down to that refrigerator the morning it happened, and I still remember it. It was a shocking case."
A suspect in the shootings, James L. Breeden, 39, was identified in a police lineup by the sole survivor. After a highly publicized trial with Horan as prosecutor, Breeden was convicted in the deaths of Rick Morefield, a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College and the youngest victim; Assistant Manager Dennis Gildea, 36; part-time clerk Patrick T. Marcil, 22, and Edward Nakpodia, 23, who worked at another Roy Rogers and was picking up his wife, Julie Nakpodia, 22.
Breeden also was convicted of maliciously wounding Julie Nakpodia, who survived two bullet wounds in the head, and of robbing the restaurant of about $1,065. He is serving five life sentences plus 20 years at the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond and is expected to be eligible for parole in a few years, according to Horan.
Julie Nakpodia, who was partially paralyzed on one side, was last known to be living in New England and had almost fully recovered from the shooting, said Horan. She asked after the shooting that her whereabouts not be disclosed.
Breeden, in and out of prisons much of his life, acknowledges that he has a long history of breaking and entering, but insists that he is not a killer. "I know that I'm not guilty. They know I'm not guilty," he said in an interview this week. "I was probably the easiest target for them . . . with my long history of crime."
The morning of March 6, 1976, Morefield and her daughter Betsy, then 18, drove to the brown and orange restaurant at 6227 Little River Turnpike off Shirley Highway, looking for Rick because he did not come home from work, where one of his duties was to clean the beef slicing machine.
In a recent interview with the two women, Betsy likened "the magnitude of seeing that place surrounded by police cars" to viewing the recent shuttle explosion: Just too much to internalize. Her mother said she kept "saying the words [that Rick was dead], but I didn't believe it."
"You cannot imagine the depth of pain," Morefield said. "Then rage." She saw pediatricians and psychiatrists, who told her it was up to her to set the tone, to make her other children understand that it was all right to talk about their feelings.
Morefield said she was "self-centered" in her grief; Betsy Morefield described her reaction as "fear and panic" that someone was going to come and get her; Steve, one of Rick's four brothers, said low moments would "come and go."
The months following Rick's death steeled them for the ordeal of the hostage crisis. "I think we learned how to survive," Dorothea Morefield said.
She recalled that her husband went through a terror that might have been similar to her son's -- a cocked handgun was placed against his head by one of his Iranian captors. Only when the trigger was pulled and he heard a click did he realize that the pistol was not loaded.
"He knew he'd already been through something much worse," said Morefield, who became a soothing voice and one of the spokeswomen for the families during the 444-day captivity.
Even after Richard Morefield returned home safely from Iran, the healing process continued.
Dorothea Morefield said it was nine years before she could look at a film of a skit in which Rick performed at Robinson High School. Until she saw it, she said, she had forgotten about his habit of tapping his fingers together, which she demonstrated with a smile.
Betsy Morefield talked about the "weird" way Rick used to wrap the family's Christmas presents with unusual ribbons and paper. She laughed, but her eyes glistened with tears.
"I changed quite a bit," said Dorothea Morefield. "How can a dent in a car be important to you when you are trying to deal with the most devastating thing in your life?" The whole family changed, Betsy Morefield agreed.
"Because of the way Rick died and Iran we've had more of a chance than a lot of people to talk about our feelings," said Steve Morefield, a premedical student at the University of Virginia. He said Rick's death made him think about his future and approach things more seriously, although he was only 11 years old at the time his brother died.
Dr. Eileen Rinear, a psychotherapist in Pennsylvania who has conducted a study of parents of murdered children and knows the Morefields, said the violent death of a child shatters the natural life cycle, in which children are supposed to die after their parents. The parents she studied exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress -- sleep disturbances, appetite changes, exaggerated startle responses and loss of control over their lives.
Society tends to think that the only victim of a homicide is the person who died, said Rinear. In a homicide, it's the family who represents the victim, she said. Why did they go back to the refrigerator? "To try to make it real."
Betsy Morefield began her first semester at the University of Virginia soon after her brother's death, but she lost weight and was making people around her nervous. "They didn't want me to talk about it. It would stop conversations if I mentioned him. If I said: 'Rick used to say that.' "
Her mother had the same problem. "People are so afraid of your emotions. They try to hush you up, because you might cry."
Rinear said in general families are beseiged with people wanting to help in the beginning. "We give support, but we give it very quickly and we expect people to go on with their lives."
So the Morefield family -- Richard and Dorothea, daughter Betsy and sons Steve, Dan, Bill and Kenneth -- talked to one another.
"We talked a lot about Rick," said Morefield, who now lives in Mexico City with her husband, an economic counselor with the State Department.
"They are unusual. They're pretty heroic folks," said John Stein, deputy director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), where Dorothea Morefield worked for several years after the hostage crisis. "For all their heroics, they're also ordinary people. They may be atypical in that they went further with their recovery than many do . . . . It's a sadder world they live in."
Morefield said they all hurt each March 6 -- some years more than others -- and they had been more aware of this anniversary because it was the 10th.
"One meant something, two meant something, five was hard," said Betsy Morefield.
But, said her mother, "We've made his death count over the years."
She threw herself into groups such as Handgun Control Inc. and NOVA, and created a Washington chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. Before the murders, she worked in a hospital emergency room.
After 10 years, said Morefield: "I love just as much, I laugh just as much. Our lives are full. You can heal. You can go on."