Special Reports

Crystal’s classmates turn tragedy into hope

There’s a brightly colored message drawn in pink magic marker that reads: #1 Mom.

It hangs in a simple frame on the wall of Room 314 at Tacoma’s YWCA domestic violence shelter.

It was drawn by 10-year-old Haley Judson, who saw her father, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, fatally shoot her mother and then himself nearly two years ago.

Next to Haley’s picture, there’s a second picture of a brightly colored sailboat, drawn by her 7-year-old brother, David Jr.

On Saturday, the pictures moved Crystal’s friends to tears as they renovated a room at Tacoma’s shelter for abused women.

Though it’s been two years, Crystal Judson – her maiden name and the name her family prefers – is far from forgotten among friends.

“I’ve had a hard time moving past it emotionally, particularly not being able to attend the funeral,” said Betsy Neumann Russell, a junior high school friend of Crystal’s.

“It’s just still raw for me,” said Rachelle McGinnis, another longtime friend.

Crystal’s classmates from Mount Tahoma High School communicate by e-mail and meet at a restaurant not far from where they went to school.

For a while, they’ve wanted to do something to honor her memory. They wanted to help other women fleeing abuse. Mostly, they just wanted to do something.

So, they raised nearly $2,000 among themselves and gathered donations from local businesses, such as paint and discounted furniture, to make over a room at the women’s shelter, a place Crystal briefly contemplated moving to during her bitter divorce in the spring of 2003.

On Saturday, her friends scrubbed down baseboards, applied two coats of paint – lavender on the walls, white on the ceiling. They washed the floor and hung curtains. They set a vase of flowers on a new dresser, and gently replaced six bunk beds to their original spot, returning them for a family already living there to use later than evening.

Crystal’s friends were chemistry lab partners, grade-school sweethearts and English class buddies. Tennis partners and friends from the Daffodil princess court.

“She touched us all, whether we knew her for a day or for 20 years,” said Kraig Carpenter, 37, who drove from the Vancouver, Wash., area to help for the day.

Carpenter had known Crystal from the first grade.

“When you’re in elementary school, you’re girlfriend and boyfriend every other week: ‘Will you go (steady) with me? Check this box, Yes or No.’

“We were competitive. We were Teacher’s Pet One and One-A.”

Crystal’s friends recalled how she befriended a new girl at junior high one day and told her, “Now you can say you have a friend.”

They recalled her swinging a powerful tennis racket.

Greg Holcomb, 37, her chemistry lab partner from high school, remembered the last time he saw her at a college get-together. She was carefree, happy and “gorgeous.”

“Being a father and a husband, it’s difficult to comprehend how a man could do something like that to his family,” he said.

Suzanne Stewart, a junior high school friend, said the day’s project was a constructive way to channel their energy.

“After Crystal was killed, we all felt pretty hopeless, and didn’t know what to do.

“This has really given us a chance to do something.”

Crystal’s high school classmates are working on two other projects.

They’re raising money for a scholarship in her name to be given to a graduate of Mount Tahoma High School.

They’re also putting together a book of memories for Crystal’s two children. They’ve compiled high school news articles written by Crystal, a poster of the musician Prince she gave to a friend, plus heartfelt remembrances.

Crystal’s friends wanted Haley and David Jr. to see that their mother was loved.

“I remember my dad and his buddies getting together and sharing things about growing up,” Holcomb said. “That was taken away from those kids.

“We’re hoping to pull together some memories from people who were friends with their mom.”

Crystal Judson scholarship fund

Friends of Crystal Judson are raising money for a scholarship in her name to be given to a Mount Tahoma High School graduate. For information, contact Suzanne Stewart at suzanne@harbornet.com.

Martha Modeen: 253-597-8646