The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Relationship rises from terror of sniper attack
RELATED STORY: Victim’s family thankful for ‘sympathy and love’
By PAMELA GOULD
Deborah Hertle keeps a photo of two of sniper victim Kenneth Bridges’ children on a wall in her office at Grace Church of Fredericksburg.
“That’s the reminder to me to pray for their family,” said Hertle, who was one of four area ministers who traveled to Philadelphia in early 2003 to meet with Bridges’ widow and her six children.
Bridges, a 53-year-old businessman from Philadelphia, was killed while pumping gas at the Four-Mile Fork Exxon in Spotsylvania County 10 years ago this month.
As Hertle looks back, her mind quickly goes to the terror of those three weeks in October when a pair of snipers traveled from Montgomery County, Md., to Ashland on a murderous spree.
She’s reminded of her granddaughters, who were then just 5 and 6 years old, experiencing lockdowns at their Spotsylvania school instituted to keep children safe.
“That was such a horrible thing for me. Just talking about it again makes me want to cry,” Hertle said during a recent interview.
The actions of 41-year-old John Allen Muhammad and his 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, left an indelible mark, not just on the 10 families whose loved ones were killed and the three people who were wounded.
No one felt safe because of the randomness of the shootings. People of all ages, genders and races were shot at different times of the day, on different days of the week and as they went about doing normal everyday activities such as mowing grass, vacuuming a car, loading packages in a shopping-center parking lot and arriving for school.
Fears peaked when snipers left a handwritten message near a shooting in Ashland: “Your children are not safe anywhere at any time.”
On Oct. 14, 2002, the sniper shootings struck close to home again for Deborah Hertle when Linda Franklin was killed outside a Home Depot store in Fairfax County.
Franklin, a 47-year-old FBI analyst, had sat in the cubicle next to Hertle’s husband, Dave, at FBI headquarters.
“My husband thought Linda was such a special lady. She really stood out,” Deborah Hertle said.
Hertle also shared about her own close call–something she had never before discussed.
The morning of Oct. 11, 2002, Hertle was headed to the Four-Mile Fork Exxon–the place she always gasses up–in preparation to head out of town for a women’s retreat.
Instead, she turned around.
“I just had a sense to go home. It made no sense for me to do it, but when I get that, I’m a woman of faith and I do it,” she said.
Bridges was killed at the station a short time later.
“My life was spared and I don’t know why Kenneth’s wasn’t,” she said, pondering it again one decade later.
Hertle said she stayed in touch with Bridges’ family for a while after the January 2003 visit to Philadelphia to deliver gifts, cards, letters and a check for $17,000 from residents of the Fredericksburg area.
She returned there a few times, developing a relationship with them.
Being part of the effort of local ministers to reach out to the Bridges family is something that has stayed with Hertle, who serves as Grace Church’s mobilization for ministry director.
She said the effort of the local churches to support the family helped provide healing for her and others here.
“It brought meaning to something that was so horrible,” she said. “It’s like giving a hug to someone who loses somebody.
“You can’t change it but you want to show you care and we wanted to make a difference in that.”
Hertle is reminded of the events and the formed relationships each day as she looks at the photo on her wall of April Bridges and her brother Justin.
“It was one of those moments you treasure for the rest of your life,” she said.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972