The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Victim’s family thankful for ‘sympathy and love’
RELATED STORY: Relationship rises from terror of sniper attack
By PAMELA GOULD
Entrepreneur Ken Bridges was 45 minutes from his Philadelphia home on Oct. 10, 2002, when he got a call that a businessman he’d hoped to meet with in Virginia had just arrived in the country.
He turned around and headed south again–back through the region being terrorized by the D.C.-area snipers.
The next morning as he returned north on Interstate 95, he called his wife on his cellphone to say the meeting had gone well and he’d be home in time to take their daughter to the orthodontist.
“Babe, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to make a stop,” Bridges told his wife about 9:20 a.m. before exiting I-95 at Massaponax in Spotsylvania County.
Jocelyn Bridges hung up and washed the dishes for the eight-member household. Then, she flipped on the TV to CNN.
Immediately, she saw there had been another sniper shooting and knew traffic would be a problem.
Police had begun initiating dragnets after each shooting, blocking access to the interstate and other escape routes, hoping to snare the perpetrators who in the first week of October had terrified people from Montgomery County, Md., to Fredericksburg.
By the time Bridges was taking his business trip, the snipers had shot nine people, killing all but two.
The lethal shooting spree started in Wheaton, Md., at 6 p.m. Oct. 2., and within 28 hours, six people had been killed in Maryland and D.C. During the next six days, the snipers would zigzag between Virginia and Maryland, including an Oct. 4 shooting outside Spotsylvania Mall.
Jocelyn and Ken Bridges were aware of the mounting death toll as he prepared for what was to be a quick business trip. They had discussed precautions like taking alternate routes.
So on Oct. 11, when Jocelyn Bridges saw CNN’s report, she instantly called her husband to try to steer him away from the traffic.
She got no answer.
When she looked back at the television, she knew why.
She saw his car. Recognized the license plate.
His silver Buick sedan sat beside a gas pump, encircled by police tape with the nozzle still in the tank at an Exxon in view of I-95.
Hours before police called, Jocelyn Bridges knew her husband of 20 years had been killed.
‘EACH ONE TEACH ONE’
Ken Bridges had an MBA from the Wharton School at the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania.
He was a man of ideas, a man of faith and a man on a mission.
“He didn’t walk,” his widow said. “He bounced.”
In 1993, he wrote a 72-page booklet that blended Scripture and his business philosophy, offering secrets to success that he titled: “Succeeding in the World, Without Being of the World.”
A primary goal in writing his thoughts was to pass them along to his two sons and four daughters, he wrote in the preface.
“Since we never know how long we will be in the world, I felt that the best way to ensure that the children would have a chance to be exposed to these life points would be to commit them to paper. That way, when they are ready, the information will be available to them.”
Four years later, he and a partner founded MATAH, a company that linked black businesses and their products to black consumers to create a network to achieve shared success.
Bridges, 53, had previously worked for a major corporation and with Amway and was intent on setting people on a positive path by changing their way of thinking.
They in turn were to share the philosophy with someone else.
“Each one teach one” was his motto, Jocelyn Bridges said this month in what she said was the only extensive media interview she’s given since her husband’s death.
Ken Bridges had been the sole breadwinner in his household and what his wife called the “instigator” of family adventures.
He was the one to plan family vacations, day trips and holiday outings.
“I was everyday stuff. He was the glamour stuff,” Jocelyn Bridges said.
“It was a life lived with structure, plans and focus.”
The priorities were God first, then family, then achieving a lifestyle that was in line with helping people.
When she lost her husband, Jocelyn Bridges’ priority became finding a way to keep the family’s home so the children would at least have that stability.
But with one child in elementary school, two in high school, two in college and only one finished with schooling, the widow had her hands full.
“My biggest feeling beyond grief was failure–that I might not get to this point: 10 years,” she said.
Amid her overwhelming grief, she said she lost some opportunities, such as participating in a class-action lawsuit against the maker of the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the sniper shootings and the Tacoma, Wash., store from which it was stolen.
Eight victim families shared in a $2.5 million settlement in 2004. Her family got nothing.
But the MATAH network’s co-founder and a major contributor kept the family from going under financially, she said.
Alyssa, Alana, Joshua, Justin, April and Aja Bridges range in age from 22 to 34 and still live at home. Most have finished schooling and have begun finding their own career paths, Jocelyn Bridges said.
She hopes the values she and her husband sought to instill have taken root.
“That’s what I’ve tried to carry on,” she said. “I don’t know how successful I’ve been. Only time will tell.”
A COMMUNITY OF LOVE
Philadelphia is known as The City of Brotherly Love. And when one of its successful businessmen was killed here, a group of Fredericksburg-area ministers sought to demonstrate the meaning of that city’s name.
They wanted to bring healing to the Bridges family and, as Romans 12:21 says, to “overcome evil with good,” said Pastor Ernest Custalow of Grace Church of Fredericksburg.
Local congregations prayed for the family, began collecting special offerings for them, and started writing cards and letters.
Residents at Carriage Hill Rehab and Nursing Center also pitched in, making Christmas decorations and cards.
And then in January 2003, four Fredericksburg-area ministers drove to Philadelphia to share dinner with Jocelyn Bridges, her six children and their relatives.
The ministers delivered the gifts, a scrapbook with letters from churches, businesses and political leaders, and a check for $17,000.
“That was one of our finest moments as Fredericksburg churches,” Custalow said recently, reflecting on those days.
That outreach has stayed with Jocelyn Bridges over the years as she’s endured her grief, financial struggles, living as a single parent, and, this summer, being victimized again.
Bridges, four of her children and a grandchild were inside their home in downtown Philly on July 19 when three men burst in, demanding the family’s valuables.
They didn’t believe it when Justin Bridges, 30, said there weren’t any.
And when one man took a step to start up the stairs, Justin’s words froze him.
“You can’t go upstairs,” he said, taking a stand for the sanctity of the home his father had provided.
“This house is something my Dad did before the sniper took him.”
The intruder cringed and the trio fled, Jocelyn Bridges said. She is convinced that God protected them.
Bridges said her faith has gotten her through from day to day.
And she said it is the love she felt from the people of Fredericksburg that helped soothe her soul.
She keeps the scrapbook full of letters and written prayers in her bedroom. She took it out again about a month ago and was reminded of the kindness of a community that had endured its own suffering during the snipers’ three-week reign of terror.
“This came from the heart, and they also felt it,” Jocelyn Bridges said.
That was why she agreed to speak to a Free Lance-Star reporter. She wanted to say thank-you to the people in the Fredericksburg area who had reached out to her family.
“I will never, never forget the sympathy and love.”
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972