Letter from Jackie Bowen

Mr. Burris,
I sent my son an e-mail telling him about your letter and how hard it was going to be to tear down the wall I'd built up and kept there for so many years, and find things to send to you. Here is a copy of his e-mail back to me. I'm including it as it is so beautifully written and such a great tribute to Ruth. He was only 4 when she died and I had no idea it had impacted him so much. It certainly was what I needed to tear down the wall and find some things to send to you. Thank you so much for your letter and hard work, not only 32 years ago at the site, but now for the memorial web site. It was difficult but much needed for some closure for us.
Jackie Bowen

Image by Mike Bonnell


"The smothered streams of love which flow more bright than Phlegethon*, more low, island us ever - like the sea - in an Atlantic mystery."

- The Atlantides
Henry Thoreau, 1854

(*Phlegethon: one of the five rivers, such as Styx, of the ancient Greek underworld - Phlegethon burned with a fire which did not consume - that ultimately emptied into Lake "Acheron" ...which means "Woe")



Dear Mom,

I'm not sure what to tell you beyond the simple and blunt truth, so here it is.

I know that since Ruth's death you've wrapped up her belongings and stashed them away in much the same way you've somehow managed to do with your emotions. In order to make it from day to day, we've all gotten used the keeping her memory on the fringes of our conscious lives, pulling it out only at our convenience when we can afford to indulge in the tears and pain. Some might call it a callous practice, but it's the truth, and I don't think she'd have it any other way for her surviving family, to be honest.

On occasion, however, it is appropriate to wrest her from those fringes and remember the young woman she was as our daughter, sister and dearest friend. It reminds us that no matter how time has taught us to deal with our grief, it can never diminish the impact she had on all of us, or how sorely we feel her loss.Even I, only knowing her the first four years of my  life, feel her absence.

Several years back, I turned thirty-two years old, and I remember pondering the fact that I was twice Ruth's age when she was killed. I though it a curious thing, because even at thirty-two, I still clung to the mental image of her as the most remarkable, warm, giving, smart, patient and loving authority figure in my life. Can you believe that? A sixteen-year-old girl who was barely legal to drive a car was all that to me, and still is. How deceptively young. I imagine I will take that same hero worship with me to my own grave when I'm (knock on wood) over twice my current age.

Mother, I see that wall you have built. It is truly a great and mighty wall that has permitted you to continue with your life in the face of such tragedy. However, I also see that it is a ponderous wall that you have built through blood and tears.

For that very reason, I think it is important you step past that wall for a short while and contribute to the memorial. Not for remembrance - those of us who knew Ruth can never forget her, regardless. Nor can any memorial truly capture her essence or abate our grief.

What it will do is make certain that the institutions of government and education never be allowed to shed their accountability for what happened that horrible day in California. It will stand as a warning to their successors about the consequences of mismanagement and irresponsibility when it comes to the safety of our children. The repercussions of that weak and unscrupulous administration were devastating, and you have a moral obligation never to allow such repercussions to be silenced.

Most importantly, this memorial will help insure that future parents need not go through such pain and horror, as you did. If you can spare even one person the agony of having to build that same great and mighty wall in their life, don't you think that's what Ruth would have you do? Hers was a senseless and tragic death, but you can lend it purpose and power even now. Today, decades after she was taken from us, you can grant others the privilege of hearing her voice in the most direct way possible.

I know this will cost you dearly for a time as you revisit that terrible pain, and I wish I could promise that it will be appreciate by most people. It won't be. On the contrary, your sacrifice will be an earnest effort to make it so they remain completely unable to appreciate it. Such is the bitter irony of this cross you bear.

All that I can promise is that it will be a worthy sacrifice, and those of us who can appreciate it will be here for you. We grieve with you the loss of one of Earth's sweetest and mightiest souls, and look forward to the day when we can again enjoy the rapture of her company.

Be that as it may, I want you to know that Jennifer and I love you dearly, mom. Whatever you decide, you will always have our full support as your son and daughter. If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.

Love always,
- Dan

Image by Mike Bonnell


"Regard: Here is where They cast
Their forlorn, majestic hopes aside,
Picked up the tools whereby the nacent
Flux of change doth relentless abide,
Then leaned upon the adamant
Anvil's horned brow 'n 
Hammer'd all their aged, crusted fears
Into a noble crown."

- The Forging of Titans
  Tom Randolph 1997


Return to Ruth's page



Top of page