I didn’t know Thomas Wales, but I learned a lot about his character from hearing his daughter read a letter she wrote to him as the family tries to solve his murder in Seattle 10 years ago.
The late Assistant U.S. Attorney is the only federal prosecutor to die in the line of duty. Someone shot through a window in his Seattle home, killing him. Authorities have no suspects and no motive for his 2001 murder. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is renewing efforts to solve the case.
Tom Wales’s daughter held a press conference, saying she will not give up the effort to find her father’s killer.
As I heard a report on 97.3 KIRO FM, some of his daughter’s words shot through my heart. I thought, even though he’s gone, that father and daughter have something we all strive for – a lasting, loving bond.
I listened to the entire news conference this afternoon and transcribed the letter Amy Wales wrote to her father.
It confirms the feeling I had this morning. He must have been a special person to raise such an articulate, compassionate and strong girl.
It’s been a joyful year. Work is going well and that boy I met a few years ago is sticking around for the long haul. He’s lovely, and I think you’d have liked him a lot.
Most days I feel good. Other days I feel anxious and confused, but luckily not as much or as frequently as I used to. I was so young when you were killed. Not a girl; I was a young woman of 22 but still naive and a bit lost. I had to grow up pretty fast after you died. I’d like to think I did so gracefully. More often that not, in your absence I stumbled, especially during the first few months you were gone. The world had stopped making sense. Uncle H. surfaced from the subway and watched a plane torpedo into the World Trade Center, and then you were annihilated with bullets in the home we had lived in for almost 20 years.
It has gotten better. I can now sleep through the night, but sometimes in the quiet dark, my memories amplify in the echo chamber of my mind. I remember October 2001 like it was yesterday. The house was closed off for a long time. We understood why. There was work to be done, an investigation had been launched. When we finally did come home – though we didn’t really, we merely walked through a house that would soon be sold – I remember being fixated by a jar of jam on the kitchen table. In still life, isolation the jar reminded me how you used to sit at the kitchen table eating toast for breakfast. I then walked down into the basement. We had hired a hazmat company to clean away the blood, but there was still a large dark spot on the concrete in the back of the room. I sat down next to it and stayed there for a long time, gazing up at the window that brought light in from the back yard, from where your killer approached.
A few weeks before I entered the house, they released your body. As your next of kin, Tommy and I had to make some hard decisions including the hiring of undertakers who eventually asked if I wanted to see your body. I accepted the offer, I don’t know why exactly, but I knew I needed to. I remember walking into the funeral home, down a flight of stairs along a narrow corridor and into a small room. I was carrying a long-stemmed, multi-bloom flower. It’s petals were an incandescent periwinkle. Your body was dressed in a pair of khaki pants and a neatly pressed shirt. Both of which we had provided to the undertakers the day before. Your face looked normal and injury free, but your chin was positioned downward, maybe to cover up a gunshot wound in your neck. I can’t say for sure. I’ve since reviewed your death certificate which if I remember correctly simply says multiple gunshots.
I placed the long-stemmed flower on your chest and then stood for awhile next to your body. I don’t know when I started crying, before or after giving you the flower. I don’t know. By then a few other family members had entered the room. After a period of time, once the undertaker had opened a hidden door in the wall and gently slid your now closed coffin into an adjoining chamber, we were unexpectedly asked which one of us would activate the cremation. The question seemed to pull the oxygen from the room, but ultimately I stepped forward and I pressed the button. I remember hearing the sound of air and fire as it surged behind the chamber’s closed door and the noise still haunts me today.
We, your children, will never relinquish the role we were born to play. Ten years later, our love for you pours continuously from our bursting hearts. You are our keystone, our heart of hearts, a gentle, supportive and very loving father. You also loved your job, which you pursued in service to the greater good. Today, Tom and I stand in our post, in service to you.
There are people out there who know who killed you. They know the person or persons who’ve conspired to take your life, but they are fearful to share information. So I will do for them what you would do for them if you could. I will offer to carry their fear and their burden. I will model the fearlessness you taught me and the certainty you gave me in knowing when I could and should do the right thing. If they can summon the courage, I will promise to advocate for their safe harbor. And when they come forward they will know me by my gratitude and compassion.
To those with information, however small it may be, please help us. I beg you to find the courage in your heart to right this wrong. If you will let me, I will lend you my strength until you believe as I do that you have it. You have all the strength you need. With one telephone call, one email or one letter you can do a good. You can do a great deal of good. If you’d like to meet, I will sit with you and I will speak with you. I will share stories with you so that you know he was not just an anonymous somebody. He was our father, a very caring, kind hearted, hilarious, dedicated and loyal man who loved life and loved his children.
To the person or persons who killed my father, you tore him violently from this earth with egregious spite and hubris, but I am not afraid of you. You do not intimidate me. If ever we should meet, you will know me by my strength and my commitment to the life force that lives on in my hands and in my heart.
Pops, your children stand at the ready at our post for you. It’s been a difficult 10 years but we hold fast to our memories of you, your teachings and the kind of justice that you believed was possible. We think it is too.
We miss you so much. We love you and we will never give up.
(The children of slain U.S. prosecutor Thomas Wales speak at a press conference on Sept. 28, 2011, almost 10 years after the death of their father. Photo by Brandi Kruse)