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Forgive, Never Forget

For Heather Cameron, the road back was a long, hard journey.

Heather Cameron heard the sound of the gunshots that killed her mother. On Saturday, April 20, 1996, the twelve-year-old was waiting for Debra Cameron -- Debbie, to her friends -- to return from a charity auction at Graland Country Day School, where Heather was in the sixth grade. Debbie had called a little earlier to say she was on her way home and to ask her daughter what she wanted to eat. So Heather sat on the couch of her mom's loft in the Neusteter building, watching MTV and thinking about dinner.

Debbie's call was not the only one she'd fielded that evening. Heather's father, Duncan Cameron, a former prosecutor in the Denver District Attorney's Office who was now in private practice, phoned several times as well. Duncan and Debbie had separated six months earlier. Debbie, a certified public accountant and partner in the Lehman Butterwick & Co. accounting firm, had moved downtown while Duncan stayed in the family's Park Hill home. Heather split her time between her parents.

Her father would often call when she was staying with her mom, but there was something strange about his behavior this night. "He called a bunch of times, maybe four times," Heather remembers. "Asking me, 'Hey, do you want to hang out with me?' 'Hey, do you want to go to a movie?' And I was just like, 'No, I think I'm going to hang out here.' And then he called back later, and he was freaking out at me and yelling and being all weird and saying things like, 'I'm not going to give you your allowance anymore.' And I remember thinking, 'Dad, what is wrong with you?'"

 
Bryce Boyer
 
Debbie, Heather and Duncan Cameron on a family trip 
to San Francisco in the early '90s.
Debbie, Heather and Duncan Cameron on a family trip to San Francisco in the early '90s.

Duncan also asked what level of the neighboring garage her mother parked on and what time she was coming home. Heather told him.

"She was going to be home in like fifteen minutes. And then I heard some gunshots," she says. "I didn't think much of it. I thought, this is downtown, that's not entirely out of the ordinary. But we had an alley view in that loft, and pretty soon after the shots, there were cops in the alley with flashlights, and I was wondering what happened. And then I thought, 'Wait a minute, my mom's not home yet,' and I started to get worried."

Heather called her mom's car phone several times, then her work number, but she didn't get an answer. She stayed up as late as she could, but eventually fell asleep in the living room.

A police officer woke her up.

"I was still kind of asleep," she recalls, "and he started asking me all these questions, like,'Does your mom have a boyfriend?' 'Are your parents separated?' 'Does your dad have any guns?' I was like, 'Yeah, he has a lot of guns.'"

A small arsenal, in fact. There were always guns in the house on East 17th Avenue. Duncan Cameron was the first person to register a semi-automatic assault weapon -- a look-alike AK-47 -- when Denver began requiring that such guns be licensed in 1989. Seven years later, he owned an assault rifle, a shotgun, a .22-caliber revolver, a 9mm Browning, a .357 Magnum revolver, a hunting rifle, a .300 Weatherby, a .30-06 Weatherby, a .22 Marlin rifle and a Colt rifle. There was a bullet hole in the wall of Heather's room, the souvenir of an incident that pre-dated her memory, and she often traced the outline with her finger. Since the separation, Duncan had taken to sleeping in his daughter's empty room; Heather would sometimes find a gun beneath her pillow when she came back home to stay with her dad.

The police continued to pepper Heather with questions but dodged hers, telling her little more than that they'd found her mother's car in the parking garage next door and that her mother was missing. Finally, a police psychologist arrived at the loft.

"She told me that my mom had been shot," Heather remembers, "and I asked her if she was in the hospital. And she said, no, that she had died. And the first thing that went through my head was, 'Oh, crap, my dad did this.'"

For what remained of that night, Heather stayed with Becky and Tom Alfrey, family friends who had introduced Duncan and Debbie thirteen years earlier. The next morning, Heather's family came to comfort and claim her. She was taken to the Lakewood home of her maternal grandparents, Bob and Florence Schliem, where she was visited by her father. Heather had told some of her relatives that she suspected her father had killed her mother, but they'd admonished her not to say such things. Earlier that day, Duncan Cameron had been confronted by investigators while he was golfing at Lakewood Country Club, questioned and then released.

The meeting between father and daughter was tense.

"He leaned in close to me, so we were eye to eye, and asked if it was okay if I lived with my grandparents for a while," Heather remembers. "I said that was fine. And then he leaned in closer and whispered to me, 'If we had only gone out last night.' That was the last time I saw him."

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