Lorraine Whoberry felt like a criminal the day her daughter was murdered.
On January 29, 1999, Lorraine received a call at work from a law enforcement officer who informed her that she needed to go home, but refused to tell her why. She arrived to find her house surrounded by police and emergency vehicles, but still no one would give her any explanations. Not until more than an hour later did she learn from her fiancÉ that her daughter Stacie was dead and her daughter Kristie critically wounded.
Distraught, Lorraine demanded answers, but her questions continued to be ignored. Instead, she was ushered to a neighbor's house where police interrogated her for two and a half hours as they tried to determine her part, if any, in the crime.
"I felt belittled, unworthy, angry, and frustrated," says Lorraine. "I was being interrogated, but the questions I was asking were being ignored. It was as if I were the criminal."
When the detectives finally cleared her and allowed her to go to the hospital to see Kristie, the officers who drove her spoke about their families and plans for the weekend while she sat in shock in the back seat. At the hospital they headed to the farthest parking lot, never telling Lorraine they were avoiding media camped out at the main entrance. The receptionist popped her gum and said, "We ain't got nobody here by that name," in response to Lorraine's inquiries about her daughter. A manager arrived, only to ask Lorraine to wait a half hour for the shift change for a social worker.
Finally, hours later, this frantic mother, who knew only that one daughter had been murdered and the other attacked, was allowed to see her child. The doctor, not the police, gave Lorraine the details of what had happened: Stacie Reed, 16, had been murdered by an acquaintance who had stalked her for weeks; Kristie Reed, 14, had been raped, strangled, and stabbed. Her wrists were cut, her throat repeatedly slashed. The same man who had killed Stacie had then left Kristie for dead.
A Victim of the System
With little time to grieve one daughter, Lorraine spent weeks at her living daughter's bedside, praying and hoping that she wouldn't lose both her girls, that the killer would be caught, and that she would be able to understand why this had happened.
Not understanding why God had allowed this tragedy, she knew she could either blame him and turn away, or turn to him and allow him to comfort and strengthen her even in the midst of her confusion and pain. She chose to dive into her Christian faith.
"Had I not had that foundation of faith, I wouldn't have survived," she says. "God was there, and so were many people from my church family."
Though God and other Christians surrounded her, Lorraine found little comfort from the sources directly involved in the case—from the police department to the legal system. In fact, she continued to feel victimized and ignored.
When the suspect was caught hours later and arraigned, Lorraine received no notification of court hearings or trial information. Attorneys promised to call, but no one did. After the third missed court hearing, she lit into her lawyer for failing to notify her and, finally, the calls started to come. It took a year and a half before a murder conviction was handed down in May 2000.
An Advocate for a Victim's Family
Lorraine and her fiancÉ married less than a year after the attack on her daughters, but divorced soon after. The painful memories, along with her focus on helping her daughter heal, carried a weight too difficult to bear. However, even in the midst of the continued chaos over the tragedy, Lorraine was able to hold tightly to her faith, and soon felt God calling her to begin talking about her experiences.
She realized that she couldn't have been the only family to feel victimized in the midst of tragedy, so she began to pray about a way to educate law enforcement personnel on the effects of victimization. Finally, in August 2001, to honor her daughter Stacie (Stacie's birthday is August 21), Lorraine started the S.T.A.C.I.E. Foundation, an organization that works to prevent other crime victims from going through what she did.
"I wanted to memorialize Stacie in a way that would benefit people," says Lorraine. The S.T.A.C.I.E. Foundation (Striving Toward Achieving Compassion, Intervention, and Education) attempts to bridge the gap between crime victims, their families, law enforcement personnel, and others through education and information.
Joining forces with Detective Richard Leonard, the lead detective assigned to her daughters' case, Lorraine now presents "The Impact of Victimization" seminar to crime victims, law enforcement agencies, victim witness programs, attorneys, judges, university students, churches, and prison inmates.
"People need to be educated," says Lorraine. "It's not just how you say things; it's when you say them and where you say them, your tone of voice, and how you do certain things. It's all about education, which has to involve everyone including police officers, hospital workers, pastors, even district attorneys."
Since the S.T.A.C.I.E. Foundation started, Lorraine has trained more than 30 agencies nationwide, from state troopers to detectives, nursing staffs to social workers. She says many acknowledge they could have done things differently, especially in relation to victims' families.
"Some will say thank you and walk away," she says. "Others will go into detail about what they'll do differently. Sometimes an email or card will come later saying thank you. I just want them to be aware of how sensitive their manner and words need to be to these people who are genuinely hurting."
A Matter of Forgiveness
Lorraine's mission has evolved in the years since her daughter's death. In 2010, while completing an intensive course in lay-pastoral training through the American Baptist Churches of Ohio, God put in her heart a desire to start a ministry to prisoners. She wanted to reach offenders with a message about the importance of forgiveness, realizing that she needed to forgive her daughters' attacker. As part of the S.T.A.C.I.E. Foundation, she created a forgiveness-focused sub-ministry called Heal My Wounds, Leave My Scars.
Not sure she was making headway, she continued in that ministry until finally in 2012 she received a clear message that she was doing God's will. After a visit to the Lockhart Correctional Institute in June, Lorraine received a letter from Carmen who thanked her for her talk about forgiveness. Just the day before, Carmen had received a forgiveness letter from the family of her victim, whose death she had caused accidentally.
"I had asked God so many times for their forgiveness and he sent me confirmation, and then you were here, and that was double confirmation. So thank you so much," Carmen wrote.
From her prison work, God again expanded her ministry—this time into churches. During the training to become a lay pastor, people heard her story and began asking her to speak at their churches. She now travels and speaks to church groups, sharing her story and the bigger story of forgiveness.
"God wrote my testimony, but I get to walk this journey. The most amazing thing I learned is that grief is a great gift from God. When at our lowest point, if we reach up and take his hand, everything changes. Only he could take this tragedy and turn it to good," Lorraine says.
Lorraine and her husband, Richard, whom she married in 2006, now live in Ohio, a good distance from the home in Virginia where her daughter's murder occurred. The killer was convicted a year and a half after the attack and was executed in March 2010. Kristie is now 27. Though she recovered from her injuries with little permanent physical damage, the emotional and psychological scars remain. Lorraine works 60 hours a week at the S.T.A.C.I.E. Foundation without taking a salary, whether traveling, speaking, bookkeeping, fund raising, or preparing her talks.
"I want the S.T.A.C.I.E. Foundation to go international. We've done a lot of work in the United States, but I see a much broader picture now, and God is preparing us for something bigger," says Lorraine. "I want to build a team of people willing to share their stories and go into prisons. Everybody has a story, and the only way we can walk through that is to talk about it. I want to show people through my experience that they aren't walking this journey of grief alone, that someone is there with them."
Ann Byle is a TCW regular contributor and literary agent with Credo Communications.