A Grief That Is Shared : Mother of Slain Honor Student Makes Tentative Foray Into Public Arena

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange homemaker Linda Tay joined Gov. Pete Wilson at a news conference last week to support his anti-crime package calling for tough treatment of juvenile offenders--such as the teens convicted of killing her 17-year-old son on New Year's Eve, 1992.

Tay said she believes there is no stronger force to be reckoned with than a mother or father of a murdered child. But she also is tentative about her foray into the public arena, saying she still struggles with her grief daily and does not know whether the mantle of activism is one she can carry.

"I still don't have a sense of myself yet. I'm dealing with this every day, every hour, every minute," she said, her voice breaking. "I don't know what else I can do. And I mean I don't know if I can do it."

Her son, Stuart A. Tay, was an honor student at Foothill High School in Santa Ana and wanted to be a doctor like his father. His life was cut short by five teen-agers who believed Tay was about to double-cross them in a planned robbery of a computer-parts dealer.

Tay attended Monday's sentencing of Robert C. Chan, the 19-year-old mastermind of the murder ring, and she wept as she asked the judge to show no leniency. Chan was later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole--the second of the two assailants who have already been sentenced.

For Linda Tay, it was just one more small step in a seemingly never-ending process. The three remaining defendants will be sentenced later this year, and Tay plans to attend each hearing, just as she attended each day of two separate trials in the case.

Tay said she wants the remaining juveniles to spend the rest of their lives in prison, and she will fight any efforts to parole them.

The mother also is contemplating the future and how she will go on with her life. There are painful reminders everywhere she turns.

"I don't even feel happy in my house anymore," she said. "When I come into the garage, Stuart's skis are hanging by the door. His snowboard leans against the wall. His pictures are all throughout the house. What should I do? Burn it all?"

"His room has a little seat, an alcove, and when I garden I look up and see that window seat and I know that there is nobody there anymore. It ruins your life."

Shortly after her son's slaying, she was invited to join the local chapter of Parents of Murdered Children and has frequently been called upon to attend public rallies decrying violence. Last week, she appeared alongside the governor at a news conference in Los Angeles.

Tay said she believes such events and organizations are the key to change, but she also knows it will mean a constant and painful reminder of her loss.

"We're the only people out there who can understand and really do this," Tay said. "Ordinary people--people who have not experienced such a tragedy, whose lives have not been devastated--they are not really able to feel what we are going through."

But Tay does not blame then.

"They have the luxury of going back to their own lives. I have to say I was that way before Stuart was killed. You pick up the paper, you read about someone being murdered, and you so 'Oh, that's so horrible, we feel so sorry,' but then you go back to your life and forget about it."

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