Stephanie Strosnider keeps two pastel scrapbooks overflowing with mementos of her daughters' early years. There are pictures of the smiling girls with their mother and of the pair in matching pink pajamas snuggling on a babysitter's lap, and even tiny baby clothes pressed between the pages.
Then the memories end.
The girls were only 2 and 3 when they were fatally shot by their father, who also took his own life on a chilly March night in 1991.
Strosnider, 32, who works in the warrant section of the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, said that for several years after the shootings, it was too painful to talk about her loss. Now she will share her story in a support group for people who have lost a family member or friend to a violent death.
Strosnider and her mother, Betty Loy, deputy clerk of Loudoun's Circuit Court, are starting a Virginia chapter of the national group, Parents of Murdered Children. The organization, which has about 100,000 members in 110 chapters across the country, provides support and crisis intervention and also helps survivors during any court trials.
Nancy Munch, executive director of Parents of Murdered Children, said that Virginia had an active chapter in the early 1980s but that it folded in 1989. "There's a real need," Munch said. "Survivors need to have something."
Loy and her daughter, still struggling with their personal tragedy, said they are hopeful that the monthly sessions will help them and other families cope with their grief. The group, called the Shenandoah Valley Chapter, will hold its first meeting June 5 at Church of Waterlick, between Front Royal and Strasburg on Route 55. More information can be obtained by calling 703-777-0627.
"When you talk to other people, you can tell that their hearts feel the same as yours does," Strosnider said. "It helps to know that you're not the only one who's been through it."
Strosnider, who carries a picture in her wallet of Brittany, 2, and Jessica, 3, sitting on Santa's lap, said she vividly remembers the last time she saw the girls.
It was a March weekend in 1991, and Strosnider was watching television with her then-boyfriend, Larry Clark III, at her trailer home in Stephens City, Va., about 65 miles west of Washington.
The girls were with their father, Todd Schofield Strosnider. The couple, high school sweethearts who married in 1985, had divorced in January and had joint custody of the children.
Strosnider said that she was surprised to see her ex-husband pull into her driveway and that she rushed outside because she was worried that something had happened to the girls. "It was cold out," Strosnider said. "I remember shivering."
Brittany, Strosnider said, stood quietly in the truck. Jessica turned to her mother.
"Jessica looked up and said, `Mommy, Daddy's got a big surprise for you,` " Strosnider said.
Before she could respond, Strosnider said, her ex-husband pulled out a gun and fired three shots. Strosnider said she ran to the other side of the truck to get her children out, but the doors were locked.
One of the bullets struck Clark. He recovered from his wound but still has a bullet lodged in his leg, Strosnider said.
Strosnider said she ran inside to call for help, and the truck pulled away. As police arrived and began looking for the girls, Strosnider waited at the trailer with an officer who followed the search on his radio.
"The man came over the radio and said, `I found them,' " Strosnider said. "Just by the voice that came through, I knew they were gone."
The truck was found about a half-mile away at the entrance to the trailer park, police said. Todd Strosnider had shot each girl in the head and then killed himself.
"There's not a day that goes by I don't think of them," Strosnider said. "I lost my whole life, my family and my heart with them."
Loy, who brought up the idea of starting the group more than a year ago, said she's convinced that her daughter will benefit from helping other grieving parents.
"She's ready for it," Loy said. "I think it's going to be healing for all of us. There are a lot of people who don't have the family support we had, and maybe we can give it to them."
CAPTION: Stephanie Strosnider recalls the fatal shooting of her two young daughters by her ex-husband in March 1991.
CAPTION: "There's not a day that goes by I don't think of them," Stephanie Strosnider said of her daughters, Brittany, left, and Jessica. "I lost my whole life . . . with them."