A decade after sniper attacks, victims’ families speak out -- Gazette.Net


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Ten years after her husband was killed by the Beltway Sniper, Margaret Walekar’s grief still weakens her voice.

“I still have that memory, like it happened yesterday,” she said from her Olney home.

Premkumar Walekar was the third fatality, and one of six Montgomery County residents killed, during the October 2002 shooting spree. In total, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo shot 13 people — six in Montgomery — and killed 10 of them during the 22-day spree.

Those killed were community leaders, parents, brothers and sisters. The Montgomery residents killed within the county’s borders were James D. Martin, Sarah Ramos, Premkumar Walekar, Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera and Conrad Johnson.

James “Sonny” Buchanan of Arlington, Va., was killed on Rockville Pike near Nicholson Lane, and Dean Harold Meyers of Gaithersburg was shot while pumping gas at a Sunoco station Oct. 9 in Manassas, Va.

Bob Meyers, who lives in Pennsylvania, said the loss of his brother created a huge hole in his life, especially around the holidays.

“There were times like the Fourth of July, Christmastime, Thanksgiving, when we would always be together and we would do things that were memorable. ... We miss him even more those days,” he said.

Around the time of Dean’s death, Bob’s wife passed away after a car accident, and a family member jumped off a bridge a few years later. Bob said his family has been able to move on.

“We’re not stuck there,” he said.

Vickie Snider also lost a brother, James Buchanan, to the sniper attacks. Buchanan was shot on Oct. 3 while mowing the grass at Fitzgerald Auto Mall in North Bethesda.

Snider said she and her two siblings attended Gaithersburg High School. After her brother died, her family created the “Sonny’s Kids Foundation,” which awards scholarships to Gaithersburg High students and donates funds to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Silver Spring and Germantown.

“He was very involved in his community, and he mentored a lot of young people,” Snider said.

Buchanan volunteered at Boys and Girls Clubs, and was on the board of Montgomery County Crime Solvers, she said.

The foundation that bears his name started as a golf tournament at Montgomery Village Golf Club. Friends of Buchanan helped his family, raising money to help them through a tough time.

Now, the golf tournament has become the major fundraiser for the foundation.

The foundation has given $120,000 in scholarships and funds this year, Snider said. At the Boys and Girls Clubs, money from “Sonny’s Kids” often goes toward holiday parties, she said.

Buchanan also was “a really loud sports fan,” Snider said.

“He loved the Redskins,” she said. “He loved the Orioles. He’d take kids to the Orioles games.”

When Buchanan died, Snider said, his jerseys were given to local kids.

There always has been something to remind her of her brother’s death, she said, especially the developments of Muhammad and Malvo’s trials several years ago and the October anniversary of Buchanan’s death.

“No matter what is going on, no one can take away my memories. No one can take away the person he was,” she said.

At Premkumar Walekar’s grave in Hillandale on Saturday, Margaret Walekar and her family released 10 balloons into the air.

“Missing you,” the balloons read. “Thinking about you.”

Premkumar was killed in Aspen Hill as he pumped gas into his taxi on Oct. 3.

His daughter gave birth to a baby girl, Priya, last May. Premkumar never got to meet his third granddaughter.

“Every day we miss him, because he loved children,” Margaret said. She remembers her husband as “a very jolly person.”

“Life goes on,” she said, “but the memories don’t go away.”

Bob Meyers said the families of the sniper victims often talk to each other.

“We do, many times, communicate by email about each of the departed ones to kind of spur each other on in terms of our remembrance,” he said.

The other families are like relatives to them. “There’s a real bond there,” especially after going through Muhammad’s and Malvo’s trials, Meyers said.

In the end, he said, it’s their mourning that ties them together.

“We’re all part of a club that nobody wants to be in,” he said.

scarignan@gazette.net