Patty Walters lost her only child, Tim Garsow, in 1993.
Patty Walters lost her only child, Tim Garsow, in 1993.
The 20-year-old was brutally murdered when he inadvertently witnessed a car vandalization after stopping by a friend’s apartment to retrieve his coat.
As Patty’s journey changed abruptly from mother of a young man who was excitedly exploring his goals and purpose to a homicide victim survivor, she knew she needed help.
Along with her family, friends and Tim’s friends, her three best friends, Kris Vakas-McClelland, Phyllis Fleming and Julie Peters were there for her every step of the way, as they had been since they were young teens.
But Patty knew she also needed to be around people who had experienced this devastating loss who could help her understand and manage her feelings of overwhelming sadness and anger.
After the trial had ended and Tim’s murderer pleaded guilty to first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, her court advocate told her about Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) and she joined in 1994.
“To be honest, I was very upset with my first meeting because people were laughing, enjoying life and I didn’t think it was fair because my son was gone,” said Patty.
But she was determined to stick it out. “I found out that night that there was an annual conference, so in less than a month I went to the Minnesota Conference in 1994.”
The conference turned out to be a turning point in Patty’s struggle. “I learned so much that year and met some wonderful, terrific people. I knew this is where I needed to be at this time of my life.”
After 23 years with POMC, Patty is receiving the Lisa Hullinger Award today in Irvine, California at the annual Parents of Murdered Children National Conference Awards ceremony.
Patty became active in POMC by first taking part on the board of the Kansas City Chapter before becoming the leader of that chapter for a few years.
She then became active at the national level by first becoming a contact person and also by helping the Milwaukee Chapter in their start-up efforts.
She then began arriving early to the conferences every year to help set up and work the registration table and to do anything else she could to help.
Patty’s participation at the POMC national level had a great deal to do with the help the group gave her in dealing with the most difficult years of her life. “I wanted to share and return what they did for me in getting through the murder of my son,” said Patty.
Julie, who has spoken in front of the parole board with Patty by her side, says she has seen Patty’s strengths, fearlessness and take-no-prisoner attitude up close and personal. She believes the people of Leavenworth who rallied around Patty have helped her the most in coping with this senseless tragedy. “It has been all of her friends and Tim’s friends being there for Patty to this day and it has been POMC, whose members have walked the same path she has and know the cruelty that life throws at you sometimes,” said Julie.
The deep bond among the four friends has ensured that through thick and thin, they are always there for each other. “I believe the one thing that gave Patty a reason to keep going was POMC,” said Phyllis. “I am so proud of her dedication to helping others who have lost loved ones. She is so deserving of this award.”
Parents Of Murdered Children, Inc. was founded by Robert and Charlotte Hullinger in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1978 after the murder of their 19-year-old daughter, Lisa, by a former boyfriend. POMC now has 48 chapters across the U.S. and approximately 200,000 members.
POMC also offers speakers, victims rights programs, crisis intervention, a program to intervene if a murderer is up for parole, a "second opinion" program of experts to review cold cases, a murder response team that went to Oklahoma City after the April 1995 bombing, a "murder wall" that has 22 panels with 120 names each on them, and an annual "Lisa Hullinger Award" for an outstanding survivor who has reached out to others.
For Patty’s friend Kris, the award sums up the courage and perseverance that Patty has shown after 24 years of living with a mother’s worst nightmare.
“I remember getting the call from Patty’s sister when Tim was killed,” said Kris. “When I heard who it was on the phone, I thought something must have happened to Patty. I never dreamed it was about Tim.
“As with the news of any death of someone you know so well, I was in shock and disbelief. I was angry and confused. You question how this could happen, why would this happen. I was worried about Patty, of course, and she knew we were all there for her, but was that enough?”
Kris had known Tim from the moment he was born. “He was a ray of sunshine,” she said. “You could see from his big smile that he was a beautiful, talented and charming young man. He was someone you were always happy to see. As you can imagine, Patty was lost and didn’t know what to do, where to turn and if she even wanted to go on. I think the POMC organization saved her life. They gave her a purpose. They gave her people who had been through the same experience and they are the only ones who can really know what she was feeling.”
Patty’s lifelong friends have provided each other with a rock-solid support system and after graduation from Leavenworth High School in 1968, they still get together several times a year for lunches, weekend getaways and trips.
“As you can imagine, knowing each other for that long, we have seen each other through many life events, some good and some bad,” said Kris. “They are truly my very best friends. I feel a sense of well-being and comfort when I am with them.”
Travel has been a major focus in helping Patty deal with the tragedy. “She travels constantly,” said Kris. “She is a brave person and travels mostly alone. She takes cruises, flights, train trips all over the world. She is always on the move and we sometimes have trouble keeping up with her adventures.”
Another joyful refuge for Patty is her love of Barry Manilow, for whom she has traveled all over the U.S. and even to London to attend his concerts. “She is what is known as a “Fanilow.” His music has helped her through her tough times and she has had the opportunity to tell him so in person,” said Kris.
As Patty accepts the Lisa Hullinger Award today in California, her three best friends will be with her in spirit as she is honored by POMC.
For Patty, today will not only be a day to savor and enjoy, but also a milestone reached with the help and support of her best friends and POMC, through a difficult and painful 24-year journey.
“There are no words that I could say about Parents of Murdered Children that would fully describe how truly they helped me and others,” said Patty.