Maria Schwartz did something unusual on Dec. 8, 2001 -- she used her cell phone to check her home answering machine. She had a message to call her father, who told her, "It's Mike," referring to her brother Robert Michael Schwartz, a respected Loudoun scientist. "I think he's dead."
"I remember feeling as if the whole world had been turned upside down, and I started to cry," Maria Schwartz said.
Her brother had been killed with a 27-inch sword by a friend of his youngest daughter, Clara Jane Schwartz, a college student later convicted of orchestrating the murder and sentenced to 48 years in prison.
At a ceremony Thursday in which several people were honored for helping victims in different incidents, Maria Schwartz thanked investigators who worked on the case. She said they "tried not to make it harder for my family than it already was" as they slowly learned the circumstances surrounding his death.
"We have been tortured by images of my brother lying face down on the kitchen floor of his beloved stone house, stained with blood," Schwartz said at a ceremony honoring victims services workers. "He struggled hard to stay alive, but in spite of it died violently and alone."
Maria Schwartz also expressed appreciation for the help that victims services workers gave her family during the trial, such as providing private rooms in which to wait and facilities for conference calls with her brother and sister who live out of town. "At least we were not left in ignorance and silence, trying to figure out what was happening and why," she said.
The legalities in the case have not ended. On Friday, Michael Paul Pfohl, convicted of second-degree murder for helping his friends kill Schwartz, fired his attorneys and said he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea.
Another speaker at Thursday's ceremony was Amy Rummage, who said police helped her realize that she was a victim. Last July, a neighbor who had taken the drug PCP and was armed with a loaded gun broke into Rummage's Ashburn home and pinned her to a desk.
"I started saying to myself that it wasn't really that bad," she said. "He didn't shoot me, he didn't rape me, he didn't hit me." But the investigator told her, "Yes, it could have been worse, but something did happen to you. . . . I had a hard time understanding . . . that what he did was really wrong."
Thursday's program honored a nonprofit worker, a county employee and a good Samaritan with Loudoun's fifth annual Victim Services Award.
Ritchie Fisher was driving home from work on Route 28 in Sterling on March 11, 2002, when he saw Sohan Lal Banga run a red light and slam his red Plymouth into the side of a Honda driven by Danyal Mahmood, 20, who had moved to the United States from Pakistan in 1999 and was a computer company intern.
"He had to make a decision at that time, and his decision was whether or not to be involved," Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson said. Fisher ran to help the victims, trying to save Mahmood's passenger, Geraldine Alconini Mendoza, 23, a hairdresser from Bolivia who was studying for her GED exam. Mahmood and Mendoza were killed.
"Ritchie Fisher became involved because it was the right thing to do," Anderson said. "No one could have saved that girl, but he tried, and for that reason, he is to be honored."
Fisher, a manager with Wackenhut Corp. in Fairfax County, also testified in Banga's trial. Banga, 25, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, drunken driving and driving with a suspended license. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
"I didn't think about it until the trial, actually, how bad it really was," Fisher said of his experience.
Mendoza's mother, Daisi Mendoza Alconini, also spoke after Anderson presented Fisher with his award. "He chose to take it upon himself to try to restore her life, and he had my eternal gratitude for being there in my place," she said in Spanish through a translator. "I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who helped my daughter, Geraldine, and her boyfriend, Dan, reach a just rest."
Julie Carson, coordinator of Loudoun's Victim Witness Program, spoke about the other two honorees, Jeanie Furnari and Lindy Swimm.
In Furnari's 13 years as manager of outpatient services for the Loudoun mental health department, outpatient services have grown to include treatment for child victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence programs for victims and their assailants, bilingual services for Spanish-speaking clients and an in-home therapy program for young people and their families.
For nine years, Swimm has directed youth and children's services for LAWS, the Loudoun Abuse Women's Shelter. Since her arrival there, the program has expanded to serve 300 young people who have experienced many levels of family violence. Swimm designed a comprehensive curriculum to be used by support groups for child victims of domestic violence.
Staff writer Maria Glod
contributed to this report.
Three of the award recipients, from left: Lindy Swimm, Jeanie Furnari and Ritchie Fisher.