After the politicians had voiced their sympathy, and after family members of sniper victims had offered words of sorrow and hope, Nelson Rivera stood on the Reflection Terrace, a memorial to those who died in October 2002 that Montgomery County officials unveiled yesterday.
Among the victims was his wife, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera. She was shot in the back at a gas station two years ago tomorrow.
Rivera paused at the memorial, an area paved with flagstones at the edge of a pond in Brookside Gardens, a 50-acre enclave of horticultural splendor in Wheaton Regional Park. "It's so wonderful to have this place," he said. "But nothing -- nothing -- is going to bring my wife back."
Yesterday's ceremony to dedicate the memorial was a somber affair in a beautiful place. The terrace is fringed with shrubs and trees, many of one weeping variety or another: cherry, beech, Norway spruce.
Before the speeches, several dozen family members of the victims greeted each other with gentle hugs, smiles and pats on the back as they inspected the finished terrace for the first time. Police in dress uniforms provided them a measure of privacy.
A woman in a black jacket wept as she read an upright stone engraved with the names of the 10 Washington area slaying victims. Next to her, a man in a red shirt wiped tears from his eyes.
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who led the drive to create the memorial, told an audience of about 200 that the snipers' three-week rampage was also "a time when we saw the strength of the human spirit," in how the community responded. He said that the community would reflect, with the families of the victims, "here, in this place, in hopes of creating a better and more peaceful society."
Larry Meyers, a brother of victim Dean H. Meyers, called the memorial "a serene place where one can come to reflect." Unlike speakers who said nothing could explain the actions of the snipers, Meyers said those who died "were victims of two minds given over to the dark side."
He said Reflection Terrace would give visitors a chance to counteract evil with good. "Let us focus on the good and fond memories of our loved ones and turn our thoughts away from dwelling on the dark side of those tragic experiences," he said.
Victoria Snider spoke of prior visits to Brookside Gardens with her brother, James L. "Sonny" Buchanan, who was killed the same day as Lewis-Rivera. "Sonny and I walked these paths together when my children were young," she said.
She described how Buchanan, a landscaper, had helped her pick out trees -- a magnolia, a dogwood, a weeping cherry for her own garden. "They're all in my yard," she added, "all reminders and reflections of my brother Sonny."
As the speeches ended, Duncan returned to the lectern and pointed out Whitney Donahue, who received a $150,000 county reward for alerting authorities to John Allen Muhammad's Chevrolet Caprice, a call that led to the arrest of the snipers.
Many of the victims' family members sought him out afterward. "Let me give this man a big hug," said Beverly Douglas, the aunt of Conrad E. Johnson, the snipers' final victim. "Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for him," she said later. "I'm only sorry he did not call three or four days earlier, so I'd have my Conrad with me."
Donahue was also greeted by the relatives of Premkumar Walekar, who also died Oct. 3, 2002. Donahue told them how sorry he was about their loss. The victim's widow, Margaret Walekar, accepted his words of condolence and then thanked him. "You saved so many people's lives," she said.
Donahue, who had a met a few of the family members at trials, seemed a bit stunned by all the attention and gratitude he received yesterday. "This is amazing," he said.