Linda Simmont rolled her wheelchair out to the end of the pier at Ventnor Marina, where she had been coming since childhood, to gaze out across Bodkin Creek toward the line of trees on Bayside Beach and, off to the east, the shimmering waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
It was a journey she took daily, something the once-athletic woman, now paralyzed from the neck down, did alone that allowed her a measure of freedom in a life that required nearly total dependence.
Simmont, 51, never returned from her outing Thursday afternoon along Ventnor Road, the rural Anne Arundel County street where she grew up. Rescuers found her body and her wheelchair yesterday morning off the end of the pier.
Anne Arundel police say neighbors reported that Simmont lately had been despondent. She lived a life of constant pain and unrelenting medical bills. The bills had gotten so bad that she had put her beloved waterfront home on the market.
But her family and her caregiver say Simmont was a survivor. Gathered around the front door of her home, they said she loved her children too much to do harm to herself. And there was nothing in her manner Thursday to suggest that the afternoon respite would end as it did.
"We were laughing, joking, gossiping, like we do every morning," said Patty Taylor, the caregiver, who notified police when Simmont did not return. The two had watched the "Today" show that morning, they had chatted about dinner -- burgers on the grill -- and they had briefly considered going shopping. But Simmont told Taylor: " 'Nah, it's a lovely day today. I want to roll around,' " Taylor recalled.
Simmont left her house about 3:15 p.m. Thursday in the electronic wheelchair she steered by moving her neck. When an hour passed and she didn't return, Taylor summoned neighbors and began a search. By evening, police had been notified. The search focused on the pier, where several people had seen her. Her body was recovered about lunchtime yesterday.
Born and raised in a remote area along Bodkin Creek, Simmont grew up in an earth-tone house and never moved farther than next door. She raised four daughters: Jessica, 18, and Alexis, 15, and stepdaughters Anna, 27, and Nori, 26. She played on the water, boating, crabbing and riding a personal watercraft.
She also loved horses.
Her life changed in September 2000, when her beloved quarter horse, Snickers, bucked during a ride near her home. The fall left her a quadriplegic, with no movement below her neck. She spent eight months in the hospital, learning how to breathe without a ventilator.
When Simmont returned home, her daily wheelchair ride became a focus of her life.
"It was something she could do by herself, for herself," said Gary Simmont, Linda's ex-husband. "She couldn't feed herself; she couldn't take a drink. But she could do that."
Loved ones wonder whether Linda Simmont was betrayed Thursday by her electronic wheelchair, or by her own body. A sudden neck spasm easily could have driven the chair off the end of the pier, according to the family.
"She adored her children," Gary Simmont said. "She would never do anything to hurt her children. She endured everything for them."