How many of us have watched the news, listened to the terrible details of a homicide and thought to ourselves “that poor family”? I would venture to say most of us have had that thought. I did. I would hear news like that think to myself or say to my husband, “that poor family,” and my life continued on.

On September 18, 2009, I unfortunately became one of those poor families. My sister was found dead in her home. Her death was ruled a homicide later the same day. It is so difficult to explain the feelings, the emotions, the array of emotions that one goes through when hearing news like that about a loved one. The tears are never ending, as well as the questions. Why? How? Who? When?

My husband and I made the journey back to my home state immediately arriving at 4 am on Saturday, September 19th. My grown children, my mother, my other two sisters and my sister Sandy’s only child all lived in my home state. I wanted to get to my niece as soon as I could. My God, her mother was murdered. How does a 24-year-old handle that?

The entire family had questions. We desperately wanted and needed answers.

On the following Monday, we learned how she died. We saw it on the news that afternoon, late breaking news. “Teacher dies from stab wounds to the heart.”

We wanted an answer to the how and once we received the answer, I begged God to take it back. I didn’t want to hear that answer even though I needed to hear it. Sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? It is not crazy. It is a normal reaction to a very abnormal situation. If I’ve learned nothing else in the last nine months, I’ve learned that any reaction is normal to an abnormal situation as long as it causes no physical harm to yourself or to others.

Three days after my sister’s murder, we had one answer, the how. I wanted all the answers. I honestly thought we would have all the answers by the time we buried her on the following Friday. Her visitation was on Thursday evening. I remember seeing the memorial pamphlet with her name, date of birth and date of death. From what I’d learned from the detectives working her case, the scenario they gave me was it was most likely someone she knew (no forced entry), most likely a man (most murderers are men).

She had talked to my mother on the phone at 7:30 pm on Thursday, September 17. My sister had talked to her child, her daughter at 7:45 pm. She was in the process of preparing herself something to eat, but had not eaten.

She had called a friend and left a message for him; she was worried or afraid of something or someone. He was in a meeting until 10 pm and didn’t get the message until then. He didn’t call her back because he thought she might be sleeping. I would have thought the same thing. Her neighbor heard her dog barking from 9 to 11 pm. The same neighbor heard loud noises, like someone moving furniture around 10 pm or so. She even thought to herself , “Sandy, what are you doing over there?”

In my mind as well as my other two sisters’ minds, Sandy died on September 17th. But the memorial pamphlet said September 18th. I didn’t understand that.

A few days after the funeral, I called the detective to ask about the time of death. He told me the autopsy report stated the time of death anywhere between 9 pm on Thursday the 17th to 9 am on Friday the 18th. In this case, the time of death is recorded when she was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after 9 am on the 18th.

The detective again reminded me, it’s not like it is on television. I was shocked. I honestly thought they could pinpoint the time of death. Often they can’t.

To this day, I still have a hard time not knowing exactly when she died. I know exactly when my father died — August 3, 9:06 am. My mother knows the exact minute my sister took her first breath, the minute she was born, yet will never know the exact minute her precious child took her last breath. Why is that important? I am not sure why, but it is important.

So, we had the answers to two of our questions: how and when. Even though the answers were hard to accept and hear, we had answers.

To this day, my sisters and I believe she died on the 17th. Every Thursday evening, I think about her. I lay in bed and shed tears knowing what happened on one fateful Thursday night. Fridays are pretty much the same.

Two questions answered, two questions remain: why and who. The two big questions. The two huge questions. How long would it take to answer those questions? Its a process that I hope no one else has to experience in their lives. I pray every night that no one else will ever have to go through this.

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Shirley Wiles-Dickinson

Shirley Wiles-Dickinson is the youngest of four girls in a Midwestern family. In 2009, her sister was brutally murdered. She writes about her experience following this loss.

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