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Living in Memory

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They came to offer tips, hope and, most important, empathy.

Robin Witnauer of Anaheim told how his fiancee was beaten and strangled six years ago in a homicide that remains unsolved.

Joe Kondrath passed on the advice he was given before attending the trial of his daughter’s murderer: First go to another trial to prepare for the emotional upset you will suffer when you hear the details of your child’s death.

Witnauer and Kondrath were among 300 people who gathered Sunday night to share their stories and offer condolences at Parents of Murdered Children’s seventh annual candlelight vigil in Brea. Family and friends of those killed in violent crimes added 17 names to the marble pillar erected seven years ago at the Memory Garden Memorial Park and Mortuary.

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The crowd, which included people of all ages, was united by red and black ribbons, tissues and stories.

Fara Engemann, 48, of Fullerton told of the horror of seeing her son’s mutilated body. “There’s no way in the world you can understand what it’s like to see your child and not recognize him,” she said as she placed a framed photograph of her son Brett on a table with the pictures of 23 other murder victims. “But the people in the group, I’ve always been able to find someone who understands.”

Throughout the ceremony, members of the national group, which has a local membership of more than 200, walked to the front of the audience to share stories and provide hope.

“There’s no need to let the killers ruin our lives as well,” Kondrath said.

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Standing in the back of the crowd, flanked by her two sons, Lea Roman bowed her head in agreement.

“That’s so true,” Roman said, clutching two framed photos of her daughter, who was fatally shot in February 1998.

Marking the date that would have been her daughter’s 17th birthday, Roman brought about 20 family members and friends to the vigil--many wearing T-shirts featuring a photograph of the teenager, others holding colorful birthday balloons. Her daughter’s name, Desiree Roman, was added to the 3-by-5-foot white marble memorial last year, and Roman has been attending meetings of Parents of Murdered Children since then.

“The group has helped me see others who have survived,” she said. “When it first happened, I was so numb. I couldn’t think about living. But seeing others who have made it--five years, 10 years--it really sheds some light and shows that it’s possible.”

Witnauer has been attending meetings since a month after his fiancee, Cherilyn Hawkley, was killed. He said he plans to continue attending meetings to provide support for others.

“There are some real angels here,” he said.

Witnauer, who emceed the event, said he postponed an overseas business trip to attend the vigil and see the name of his fiancee added to the marble column.

“It’s been so important for me,” he said. “Some people set great examples and provide hope for everyone. This is something I’ll always want to be a part of.”

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