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Three local girls did not die in vain

August 18, 2002 1:02 am

THROUGH ALL THE phases of grief that accompany the loss of a child to violent death, a parent--an entire community for that matter--is left with the hope that some good can be derived from it.

Such is the case with the resolution of the slayings of Sofia Silva and Kristin and Kati Lisk. In this case, the good to come from the evil that caused their deaths is greater than we will ever know--in crimes that won't happen and in suffering and grief avoided.

The six-year investigation of their deaths at the hands of a serial killer has advanced the cause of cooperation among law enforcement agencies, has taken criminal investigation techniques to a higher level, and has showed the nation what community awareness is all about.

Those are impressive accomplishments, ones that three young women sacrificed their lives to achieve.

Spotsylvania Sheriff Ron Knight made it clear during his thorough and emotional statement at Tuesday's press conference that the outcome of the investigation was at once a combination of the relentless efforts of the law enforcement agencies involved, and courage of a young woman in South Carolina. Together, they completed the work that Sofia, Kristin, and Kati began.

Any single chapter of this case by itself would be meaningless. But together, they bring resolution. Some might suggest that thanks to luck alone--that after Richard Evonitz fell asleep, giving his last captive the opportunity to escape--the case unraveled.

But that seriously understates the efforts of investigators and forensics researchers who matched anecdotal and circumstantial evidence with DNA, fibers, and fingerprints to create the cold, hard facts that would have satisfied a jury that Richard Marc Evonitz was guilty of the Spotsylvania slayings.

There were mistakes, missteps, and dashed hopes along the way. The wrong man was arrested. The wrong vehicle was targeted. Fiber evidence was misidentified. Some believed that the ease of the abductions meant the victims must have known their assailant. There were similar crimes that took investigators to other states. There were scares involving motorists in the area who offered rides to children. There were missing girls who turned out to be runaways. All of these episodes were part of an investigation that forged ahead through the setbacks.

Anyone who has ever done anything of importance knows that accomplishment is never realized without frustration, without the need to take some steps back and begin anew. As long as there is something learned from the experience, a purpose has been served.

If there are other similar, unsolved crimes out there along the path of Evonitz's life, and there is forensic evidence available for comparison, this investigation will continue to bear fruit thanks to the efforts already expended.

Perhaps the broadest impact of this case goes beyond the experience gained in law enforcement and criminal investigation techniques. Perhaps the greatest impact is on communities across the country who have become aware of this case and have acknowledged that Spotsylvania's reality must represent a true threat closer to home.

A good example comes from the letter to the editor we recently published from a Pennsylvania woman who happened to pick up a copy of The Free Lance-Star while driving through town four years ago. Touched by a story she read about the Lisk-Silva case, she started a crime watch program in her town and joined Klasskids, an organization that sprang from the abduction and slaying of Polly Klaas in California.

Right here at home, the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office has instituted a missing-child alert system that quickly sends information about missing children to local radio and cable stations. It's called the Lisk-Silva Plan.

Surely there is a sense of relief spreading across the Fredericksburg area. Not only do we know who committed theses crimes, we know that he will never hurt anyone else. In the end, it was the bad guy's mistake that eventually cost him. And because of all the work they had done in preparation for this moment, the good guys were ready to take full advantage.

Though life has gone on over the past six years and the Fredericksburg area remains a safe and wonderful place to raise a family, there are scars. Over time the scars will be our reminders to follow Ron Lisk's advice. In his press conference remarks, the father of Kati and Kristin issued a warning: "Don't let down your guard. Please hang on tight to your children," he said, pausing to fight back tears. "Tell them you love them every day, treasure each moment with them, give them a hug every day."

Every family and every community that is drawn just a little closer together because of this case has Sofia Silva, Kristin Lisk, and Kati Lisk to thank.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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