A year has passed since I saw a post on Facebook that changed everything.
It was a plea for help from a Palmer mother, whose 16-year-old son had not come home that night.
A child gone missing… one of the things you start worrying about when you first see the two little pregnancy stripes on the at-home kit.
One of the things I worried about.
I, too, had a 16-year-old son.
I remember when my son was about 3 years old, and he thought it would be funny to hide in the middle of a round clothes rack at Fred Meyer. When I finally found him, he was giggling, but his expression quickly changed because, for the first time in his life, I yelled at him. "Don't ever do that again! You stay next to me ALWAYS!" People were looking at me, maybe assuming I was a terrible mother, but I think most understood. Our mission is to protect our children from harm.
Then they become teenagers. It's hard to scrap that lifelong mission when they start going to friends' houses, driving, getting their first job, exploring the world a little. As a mother, you want to cling forever, but you know you can't. You have to let them go out in the world; at the same time, you pray the world is kind to them.
Sometimes, the world is not.
I stayed up most of Nov. 13, 2016, monitoring the posts, looking for information and ways to help. The next day's news was even more frightening. David Grunwald's burned Ford Bronco was found on Bald Mountain Ridge.
David, who was taking his girlfriend home and giving a ride to someone to a house in the Butte, was not one to be late. He called and told his mother he'd be home by 9:20.
David would never be home again.
But the family and the community did not know that one year ago.
By the time a week had passed, with no sign of David, a crowd of 300 strangers showed up to volunteer to search for David. Of course, I was there, along with my family. I had already been out daily, taking my dogs to search various places in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, mere pin drops to check in an area that encompasses 23,000 square miles.
"Where's David?" became my constant refrain as we hiked the cold woods. I certainly didn't want to find his body … I wanted to find him alive and bring him home to his parents. I checked out abandoned sheds and containers as well as trails. I'd never met David, but so much about him, and his family, spoke to me. I, too, chose to raise my child in Palmer, a place I always considered quaint and safe until David disappeared.
During that week, I felt anxious all the time. I talked to my son more. Some of his friends came by. They wanted to talk about David. One of the moms came inside with her son to meet me. I was proud of her. Teenage boys tend to be embarrassed by their mothers' prying, but after David disappeared, they seemed to get why we do it.
I thought often about the previous school year, when my son would tell me stories about a boy in his 10th grade biology class who always made him laugh. They'd eat lunch together in the school cafeteria sometimes, and it sounded like this other boy was the "life of the party" kind of guy. My son would tell me the hilarious things this boy would do, ways he'd tease the subs, how he'd have the silliest answers to teachers' questions. He sounded like a natural-born comedian. I had never met this boy, but I already adored him, because he made other kids happy, even at school.
That boy was David Grunwald.
The more I heard about him, and the more I read about him, the more I loved him.
How can you love someone you never met? It would be fair of you to ask this. I don't really have an answer, except his sparkling eyes in the photographs drew me in, as well as the many wonderful stories I heard and read about him. At the same time, I would watch the parents on the news and also be drawn in to their grief and fear.
It was like I knew them.
A year later, I do know them. I have met them at the candlelight vigil, court dates, precious lunches with Edie, a visit to my home where she easily got my son to talk to her about so many things I never even knew.
This woman, Edie Grunwald, is so special to me, but more importantly, to our community. She makes it her mission to help other parents in her situation, to support them, to go to the court dates of every criminal involved in her son's case as well similar cases.
I am amazed by her strength in the most terrible of losses, how she manages to be a voice for the good people in our community while fearlessly standing up to the bad.
Because of her fierce dedication to making the Valley – and now the state, as she runs for lieutenant governor – better for all, perhaps we are all a little safer.
And David's father, Ben… I haven't talked with him much, a few words here and there. I see the deep wounds of pain in his eyes, the anger of finding out your son was murdered by so-called friends after searching for him for almost 3 weeks. That is a pain that will never go away; I understand this. Court date after court date he is there, beside his wife, cameras often pointed at him, a man who knows what is right and knows by his very presence he is demanding that justice be done.
Together, the Grunwalds stand unafraid, demanding a revision of a law that has allowed too many criminals to continue stealing and much, much worse.
David was lucky to have them, and we are lucky to have them as well.
I miss you, David. It is true we didn't meet in person, but your too-short life touched my own, and so many of us in Alaska. What happened to you is the absolute definition of unfair. But I want you to know that your parents are doing so much for the rest of us. They are doing everything they can to prevent what happened to you from ever happening to another child. I know you would be so very proud of them.
"They're the bee's knees!" you'd say, laughing. It's almost like I can hear you say it.
Lori Jo Oswald is the managing owner of Wordsworth Writing and Editing. She lives in Palmer.
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