Medford police Chief Tim George and I sat in a small room at the Mail Tribune last Wednesday discussing domestic violence — and life. How life sometimes sucks. And when it does, how one figures out ways to suck it up and soldier on.
Wednesday will mark the one-year anniversary of our community's most horrific tragedy. In the early morning hours of July 18, 2011, Tabasha Paige-Criado, 30, and her four children Elijah, 7, Isaac, 6, Andrew, 5, and Aurora, 2, were slain in their home on West 10th Street.
Tabasha's husband, Jordan Criado, was the sole survivor that day. Barely. Accused of their murders, his trial is slated for Feb. 12, 2013. The sights, sounds and smells of that day are burned into the hearts and souls of all the brave first-responders who struggled to save those lives. And also those who try to bring understanding of this horror to a bereaved community.
All of us have been forever changed by what we witnessed. But there is work to be done. All are agreed — this must never happen again.
"We haven't forgotten," said George. "This is a sad case all the way around."
What might we have done to prevent this? What can we do to better protect ourselves and, most importantly, our children? There are still precious few answers.
On Tuesday I spoke with Tabasha's father, Marzuq Ziyad. He has come to Medford to dedicate his life to ending domestic violence. He has come to make a difference in the community that handed him his deepest sorrow.
"I'm just tired of all kinds of domestic violence," he said.
On another Tuesday one year ago, I visited the site of the murders. Grim-faced investigators flowed in and out of the burned-out house as I interviewed the first-responders, child-abuse prevention professionals and grief-stricken neighbors. A street-side memorial of toys, flowers and candles grew by the minute as community members dropped off tokens of their grief.
Ziyad placed a couple of those teddy bears on his youngest daughter's grave after the memorial service in Bakersfield, Calif. And his resolve began to build.
"My daughter is dead right now, and nothing is going to bring her and my grandkids back," Ziyad said. "But I'm doing everything I can do to end domestic violence."
Earlier this week I sat on a shady veranda with a new-found girlfriend eating cherry pie and discussing life. She loves to read columns about life at my riverside cottage. The parrots, the wicked kitty and even my constant battles with the world's worst irrigation system.
"But some of those stories you write," she said, with a furrowed brow.
"You don't read them," I said with a smile.
I know that some of the news stories I write are tough to stomach. Child abuse. Domestic violence. As much as I hope people won't turn away from those topics, many do. The pain is sometimes palpable. And who needs more pain? I get that. I just don't think avoidance helps anyone. And there are always ways to help.
"Oh, I read them," she assured me. "I just feel badly that you have to sit through some of those trials."
Touched, I assured my new friend I had lobbied for the social services and court beats years ago. Save the sympathy for those who do the really hard work. Not some lowly scribe, I said.
But I will never forget the faces of our reporters who visited that 10th Street domestic-violence war zone armed with only a pen and pad. I can't see the image photographer Bob Pennell shot of Lt. Curtis Whipple desperately trying to breathe life into one of the children without feeling socked in the gut. Truth be told, it almost brings me to my knees. It always brings me to tears. And I have seen that photo a lot this week.
I was still mulling the strength and fragility of the human psyche as I spoke with Chief George. I wanted to know how the men and women on his force were coping one year later. But his black, rubber wristband caught my eye before I could pose the question. Braced to hear it was a memorial token of some sort, I burst out laughing when he said the bracelet was inscribed with the phrase "Embrace the suck!"
The bracelet had come from a training he'd attended. The phrase is a gallows-humor reminder to flip the toll of working on heartbreaking cases. Being entrusted with public safety is not for sissies, he said.
"A lot of it is unpleasant and upsetting. But you try and understand that's our calling. You try to take some kind of solace that you're doing the right thing for the right reasons," George said.
To end domestic violence, we need everyone to "Embrace the suck!" Just think of it as embracing each other, and embracing hope.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.