By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"I was robbed," Angela says. "She didn't do nothin' to deserve this...And when she died, the best part of me died along with her."
This time, Angela's testimony has a new twist. She recalls her horror when the Columbine shootings came on the news. "I was thinking about the parents waiting to find out if their children were okay. I remembered what it was like, waiting for Brandy to call, and my heart went out to those people. Unless you've gone through it, there are no words for it."
As she describes seeing her daughter's body at the coroner's office, Angela closes her eyes and reaches a hand toward the judges, trying to grasp something that is no longer hers to hold. Wake up, baby. Wake up.
In his seat, Danny blinks rapidly and rubs at his eyes. There are some things that no amount of remorse can make right.
"You know, I never thought I would ever have to stand up and try to convince people how much I loved my daughter," Angela says quietly. "I wish to God you all could have seen us together, and there would be no question about how we felt.
"She was my life...And I would give my life for just five minutes, right now, to tell her how much I love her."
Angela takes her seat, and Judge Anderson announces that the court will be in recess through lunch. It's a little after 11 a.m.; at 11:20 a.m., he and many others in the city, the state and the country will observe a moment of silence for the Columbine victims.
Angela will sit in silence, thinking about her daughter as well.
When this horrible thing happened," says the tiny old woman, "I couldn't speak for a while...My God, it was like a madness."
Rose Vasquez and her husband, Paul, adopted Angela when she was a child. Of all of their granddaughters, they been the closest to Brandy. She had been staying with them until the night she disappeared, waiting to move into a new apartment with her mother the next day.
They'd dropped her off near Federal Boulevard earlier in the evening so she could catch the bus to her friend's house, as Brandy had done many times before. But for some reason, Rose recalls, she'd felt uneasy and sent a prayer after the retreating form of her granddaughter, "asking the good Lord to take care of her."
Now nothing will ever be the same. Friends and neighbors no longer come by, and "everybody is afraid to say the wrong thing," she says, then sadly adds that "Angie and I don't communicate anymore...I guess she's struggling with herself.
"I did not realize how quick a life can go and leave such an emptiness."
Some of her memories she won't share, Rose says, like the times her five-foot-tall granddaughter would sit her down "for a woman-to-woman talk." But for the judges, she recalls Brandy's first rose, just a few weeks before her death, given to her by a sixteen-year-old boy who'd driven her home from school. "The rose and the boy were soon gone," she says. As was Brandy.
The family could have lived with Brandy's death, "would have missed her, but we would have gone on." But the manner of her death--the horrible things that were done to her, the humiliation and shame she must have felt--was impossible to get past.
Brandy's body was identified by her mother on a Sunday. The next day, Rose says, the telephone rang, and when she answered it, "I heard little Brandy's voice. She said, 'Bye, Grandma,' then the phone went dead and there was no other sound."
Rose pauses a moment. Her thin shoulders shake as she cries, and Sargent puts a hand on her arm to steady her. She takes a deep breath and goes on.
Now, when she dreams of Brandy, "I can't see her face," she says. "I can't touch her or hear her or hug her. All I can do now is pray and cry and visit the cemetery. But a cold stone does not satisfy the arms of a 74-year-old lady."
Brandy's grandfather, Paul, is next. He is nearly as short as his wife, a friendly man with a gravelly, lightly accented voice.
"She was my youngest granddaughter," he begins. "I needed her and she needed me. We were friends and companions."
His memories are of bicycle rides to the ice-cream store and watching movies together. Brandy, he says, was free to ask him for money. But she always insisted on earning it with odd jobs and chores.
It was their dream to go to Disneyland. Her brother, Tim, and cousin had gone years ago, when she was too small to make the trip. "But I told her that one way or another, we would go in 1998."
That dream had died with Brandy. Two years later, a good and decent man is reduced to tears, wishing they had gone sooner. "If I could have only been there," he says brokenly. "I would gladly have given my life to save her."