A memorial - and a pledge for freedom

More than 1,500 people overflowed the Ballard High School gym last Sunday, June 23, filling to capacity the un-air-conditioned building on one of the hottest afternoons of the year. It was a tremendous testament to the impact the unresolved shooting deaths of Mary Cooper, 56, and Susanna Stodden, 27, had on the Green Lake and Ravenna neighborhoods where they lived, as well as the city, the region and the state.

The path they chose

Cooper, a beloved librarian at Wedgwood's Alternative Elementary School No. 2, and Stodden, who was to become a teaching intern at the University Child Development School in August, were killed while hiking the Pinnacle Lake Trail near Mount Pilchuck in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. These were the kind of socially contributing citizens every area wants to have. They were killed by a person, or persons, unknown; the kind of citizen every area wants to root out.

Not all of the 1,500 at the memorial service knew the two murdered women. But they knew about them.

They knew that these women went into the forests for which Washington is famed, looking for the renewal that closeness to nature gives us all. They were trading, for a while, the hectic, urban society for a slower, more nurturing environment. They were embracing the cathedral of greenery and shade and streams and vistas of the world around us that are so easy to ignore in our urban lives.

Whoever else chose that same path July 11 were not looking to renew themselves. They chose to put a horrifying slash of murder across that natural refuge, the way less-murderous misfits spray-paint mailboxes and buildings. The suspects made their mark with murder, an act so profoundly obscene that it not only diminishes them, but our entire perception of the outdoors.

It is significant that the perpetrators of this act chose as their victims two, highly competent women exercising their empowerment as emancipated women. They felt free to pursue activities that 50 years ago would have almost always required the presence of male companions.

However, the presence of 1,500 at their memorial service, and the presence of several hundred at an earlier candlelight vigil at Green Lake, shows clearly that the attacks on personal liberty, freedom and safety this crime represents will be resisted. Area residents - women and men - will continue to trek the mountain and forestland trails that are our common heritage. Unfortunately, now they will all be more wary about who is sharing the trail.

CrimeStoppers of Puget Sound is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of whomever is responsible for the murders.

The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based outdoors group, has offered a $5,000 reward.

The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office has not identified any suspects so far. This is, it should be noted, a call for information and vigilance, not vigilantism.

A show of solidarity

Mary Cooper and Susanna Stodden were among the best of us. That is at least partly the motivation for the huge turnout on Sunday.

Another reason, I am convinced, is a show of solidarity - a pledge to these women's memories and families and to the people of Washington. It was a highly visible promise that we are not prepared, now or ever, to abandon our mountains and wild lands to thugs, criminals or psychopaths.

Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

I believe the 1,500 people at the memorial at Ballard High School were showing that they treasure their liberties and those who exercise them.

I believe those 1,500 have put the thugs, criminals and psychopaths on notice.

I believe there are another 150,000 behind them, and at least another million and a half behind them who are determined that our wild lands will remain free.

The battle has been joined.

Korte Brueckmann can be reached at needitor@nwlink.com.

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