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By Traci Chapman
“These are the people who are left to pick up the pieces caused by someone else’s destruction, people who do their best to wait patiently for justice, people who ask for nothing more than dignity and respect and to be treated fairly.”
Canadian County District Attorney Michael Fields
Renee Weber has taken a journey spanning more than 20 years, one she says will never end. That journey began with an unspeakable act of violence, but has continued through faith and forgiveness.
The story of Weber’s life – and how it changed forever – began Wednesday, Dec. 8, 1993, with a phone call. Weber’s sister, Cindy Jarman and her 5-year-old daughter, Tonya, and son, Timmy, 3, were missing, along with a truck Cindy had borrowed. In the days that followed, a search for Weber’s family became the discovery of their bodies in a rural Canadian County area near Piedmont. It was only days later that Cindy’s ex-boyfriend, Michael Hooper, was arrested for the crime, Weber said.
“We really didn’t have a lot of doubt,” Weber said Monday night.
It was the start of Weber’s journey – a trial, a conviction, a death sentence, appeals. Then a turnaround when the Oklahoma Court of Appeals revoked Hooper’s death sentence. It was later reinstated in 2004, when Hooper was again given a death sentence. In August 2012, almost 19 years after his crime, Hooper was given a lethal injection for his crimes.
That was the end, and yet it wasn’t, Weber said. Through the journey that began with grief and anger there began to be something else – faith and, finally, forgiveness, for the man who had taken Cindy and her children, she said.
“I went through it all – confusion, hurt, hatred and anger,” Weber said. “The question is, ‘Where do I go from here?’”
What Weber did was go to church with her mother and learn to accept a power higher than herself and greater than the court system which would try Michael Hooper. As she learned about Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, Weber said she realized something that shocked her.
“At that moment, I had forgiven the man who murdered my family,” she said.
The years of hatred and anger – and that ultimate forgiveness – taught Weber she had given Hooper power over her. It had allowed him to control her thoughts and feelings and turned her, and her love for her sister, niece and nephew into bitterness, she said.
“I allowed him to take over my feelings, I couldn’t move forward,” Weber said. “Once I saw that and once I realized what was going on – I was no longer the victim.”
Although Cindy Jarman and her children have been gone for more than 20 years, Weber, her family and friends keep the family alive. Cindy’s spirit is in everything Weber does, which includes her work to help others who have a journey like hers. Her journey, still ongoing, was what led her to Canadian County Courthouse Monday night as keynote speaker of the 22nd annual Canadian County Candlelight Vigil.
“I am sorry for the reason you are here,” Weber told the crowd gathered at the annual event. “It doesn’t matter if it happened just recently or a long time ago, we all know the same pain.”
Violent crime knows no distinction – background, financial status, race, religion – none of those matter when a family member is taken suddenly and violently. Some of those attending the vigil have been a part of the event for years, while every year new people join the event, Canadian County District Attorney Michael Fields said.
“It’s not a happy gathering, but hopefully it’s a healing one,” Fields said.
There is the family of Amy and Bryor Gibbins, a Calumet mother and son allegedly killed by a Tulsa man June 16, 2013. They are just beginning a journey in a case that has not yet had a preliminary hearing. There to help them are Kenneth and Nina Bryan, parents of Nichols Hills Fire Chief and former Mustang City Councilman Keith Bryan, who was killed in September 2011. His wife sits in jail for life, convicted last year of his killing.
Some families may never get answers, such as El Reno educator James Shaw’s wife and children. Shaw was stabbed to death in his home in May 2007. No one has been arrested for his murder and leads have gone cold, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel said.
“There’s always hope for a breakthrough, and it’s heartbreaking to watch what a family goes through in something like this,” OSBI public information officer Jessica Brown said last year.
While the pain will never go away for the family and friends left behind, there are more resources for them in the 30 years since the passage of the Victims of Crime Act. Today all 50 states have crime victims rights laws, as well as victims compensation funds. These are not financed by taxpayers but by the fines and penalties paid by those convicted of crimes, Fields said. More than 10,000 victims services agencies also help those affected by crime across the country.
The movement to help victims has come a long way, but that journey – like those of Weber, the Bryans, the Shaws and others – will not be over until every victim receives the help and support they need.
“There are certainly challenges to overcome and we won’t rest until we have accomplished everything we’ve set out to do,” Fields said. “Until the day comes when every single victim of every single crime receives the services he or she needs, we will continue to push for change.”
In the meantime, prosecutors and law enforcement will continue to work for justice and healing for the families of those taken by violence, the district attorney said.
“It’s what we do, really it’s who we are,” he said last year after the Rebecca Bryan conviction. “If we can find that justice, help a family find that peace, then we’ve done what we set out to do.”
Do you ever meet someone and think, ‘Wow, I wish I was more like him/her?’
These are the people who inspire us to be someone better, those who go above and beyond for others, thinking of doing for those less fortunate – or just someone with a pure and giving heart. They are the best of us.
I’ve written before about my mom, and she was one of those people. Taken by cancer far too soon, she was the person who taught me the kind of person I wanted to be – kind, loving, giving. I don’t know that I always succeed, but her example is something to reach for every day.
In a world where people sometimes seem to be overwhelming selfish and petty, there are those bright and shining examples of what we are capable of. It’s easy to get discouraged sometimes because it does seem the world has changed – just look at how our elected “leaders” act, with their bickering and absolute refusal to work with each other. It doesn’t matter your political party, the hatred and contempt leveled between people seems much more intense now than it did when I was a kid. It can be demoralizing, especially when you throw in those people who seem to make life a never-ending drama of negativity and strife. We all know them, we all deal with them – some of us are them.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Because for all of those people there are others. Every time I get down (admittedly, not really that often), I seem to receive a gift – the message that there are truly extraordinary people in this world. This week, that message came in loud and clear in the form of two people – Cindy Baker and Jessica Adams.
Cindy Baker and I have become friends through the more than six years I’ve covered Canadian County District Attorney’s office. In watching the people who work there, it amazes me the strength and fortitude they have in dealing with the worst in human nature – the murders, the rapes, those who steal and lie and destroy. Amidst that there is Cindy, who gives all of her heart and soul to a job that’s clearly become much more than that to her.
Cindy is the victim coordinator assistant for Canadian County. It’s a fancy title for a very straightforward thing – she helps victims as they move through the criminal justice system and beyond. Cindy helps people get funding for and gives support to victims of violent crimes and their families. She is there for them in the darkest days of their lives. But Cindy doesn’t just do her job – she has become a beacon for people who are sometimes struggling simply to hold on.
I’ve been privileged to see Cindy in action for years. Attend a criminal hearing, and it’s a good bet she will be there, offering a hug, comfort and encouragement. She doesn’t do it for praise (although she’s received plenty) – it’s clear she does it because it’s the right thing to do. Monday night it was easy to see what a difference Cindy has made in countless peoples’ lives as they spoke of her guidance and her help and how they couldn’t have made it without her by their side. A simple candlelight vigil probably brought more solace to these people than countless other acts, but it’s her work – and her spirit – that makes a huge difference every single day. She’s the kind of person we should all strive to be.
That can be said for Jessica Adams, as well. A Mustang High School senior, Jessica is one of those people who is constantly looking for someone to help, something to do to make the world a better place. She does it selflessly and without seeking praise, and people gravitate toward her because she truly cares about others. It’s no act.
Look at the teenagers around you. Many of them are focused on their social lives, their friends, their cell phones. Video games are sometimes more important than real-life people. They’re not bad kids – they’re just kids, and there’s no faulting their attitudes. They are young and carefree, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
Then there is Jessica. First, she’s working on the Polar Plunge, trying to help Special Olympics athletes. I watched her with those students – she loves them, and they her. She is able to look beyond their disabilities, some severe, and see the special person within. But, she doesn’t stop there. She’s taken the deepest of personal losses and turned it into a way to help even more people as she prepares for a survivors’ dinner for Friday’s Relay for Life. At her relatively young age Jessica instinctively looks for the best in people and life and, in doing so, she shows us the best we can also be.
As we move forward in a year that’s going by far too fast (it’s already April!), I know people like Cindy and Jessica have renewed for me what’s undoubtedly the best resolution any of us can make – to be a better person. To be more like them.
And that’s something worth striving for.
To the Editor:
Over the upcoming Easter period, many adults will be tempted to give a baby rabbit to a beloved child, godchild, grandchild, niece or nephew. In a few months, our local animal shelters will be, as they are every year, inundated by a flood of cast-off bunnies. Heartland Rabbit Rescue, which is the only rescue in Oklahoma dedicated to rabbits, asks that everyone who is considering buying a rabbit this year stop and think about three important facts:
First, although rabbits can make wonderful pets, they are naturally fragile and easily frightened. An active child who expects a cuddly pet can terrify or even injure a rabbit.
Second, a well-cared for rabbit should live as long as a dog or cat (10 years or more) and will require just as much attention and specialized veterinary (including spaying/neutering) care as a dog or cat would. No living animal is a prop to “teach” responsibility; they are a commitment and an obligation, one often way beyond the capabilities, capacities and resources of a child.
Third, just as there are countless dogs and cats without homes, so are there numerous rabbits who are languishing in shelters and rescues, often doomed to be killed unless adopted. Never buy a living being – if you wish to share your home with an animal, visit your local rescue organization and adopt in order to save a life.
If you want to make this Easter happy for a child (and for the Easter bunny, too) don’t give a live rabbit, give a stuffed or chocolate bunny instead and make a donation to one of the many excellent local animal rescues on their behalf.
Member, Board of Directors
Heartland Rabbit Rescue
Mustang Masons now have a rainbow of inspiration for their charitable endeavors, as the lodge was recently notified a Mustang Rainbow Girls Assembly was approved for the local lodge.
Lodge members voted several months ago to sponsor the assembly, but the group had its first hurdle – to find 12 members in order to be awarded a temporary status. They accomplished that goal, and on March 8, Mustang Rainbow Girls were officially recognized at India Shrine Center in Oklahoma City. In order to reach full status, the assembly must increase its membership to 25, Glenda Kelton said.
“The girls all agree this won’t be any problem at all,” she said.
Masonic Lodge 407 Worshipful Master Dan Cromwell said lodge members are excited to offer the opportunity to belong to Rainbow Girls to area women. Cromwell said he hoped to find members from Mustang, Tuttle, Newcastle, Wheatland and other surrounding areas. There are 25 active assemblies in Oklahoma, with several in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, including Yukon. With the addition of Mustang and another new assembly, located in Pauls Valley, that number will increase to 27.
Rainbow Girls volunteer for charities, participate in events and activities, work on service projects throughout the community and make new friends across the state through the “basic teachings of faith, hope and charity,” Kelton said.
Mustang Masons recently sponsored fundraisers for several local groups and individuals, including Boy Scout troops, sports teams, special needs children, Project Graduation and others, Cromwell said.
“They have also provided services for many in the Mustang community such as building wheelchair ramps, removing graffiti from a railroad bridge, donating water to local firefighters during a brush fire outbreak, donating food to a local food pantry and many more,” Kelton said.
On Saturday, Rainbow Girls will hold a bake sale at Mustang Masons Saturday breakfast, held from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m. at the lodge, located at 406 E. state Highway 152.
“We feel we have a lot to offer the Mustang community in the way of service and leadership,” Cromwell said. “Sponsoring a Rainbow Girls Assembly is another way for us to reach out to Mustang and its surrounding communities.
“It will give young women an opportunity to be involved in service and leadership activities geared to make them better citizens of tomorrow,” he said.
For further information about the International Order of Rainbow for Girls, visit www.gorainbow.org. For questions about the Mustang Masonic Lodge, call 256-6310.
By Traci Chapman
Cancer – it’s a disease that has touched almost everyone in some way.
For anyone who’s loved and lost someone to the disease, for those who have battled cancer and prevailed to fight another day, hope is something that can sometimes be in short supply. But hope can be found in plentiful supply on Friday, as hundreds of Mustang residents join together for a common cause – to stamp out this disease forever.
It’s the Relay for Life and it’s set for Friday evening. Running from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m., the annual event is a national effort designed to raise funds for cancer research and education. According to the American Cancer Society’s relay website, the event is “the world’s biggest fight to end cancer.”
The relay is also a chance to celebrate and remember. There are the survivors, those who have beaten the odds and beaten cancer, and those are the people who will gather with Jessica Adams and her fellow students at a survivor dinner held at Horizon Intermediate Center Friday evening. Scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Adams said she hoped all survivors would gather to celebrate their gift of continued life, some of them in face of overwhelming adversity.
There are those, of course, who did not make it, and everyone is touched by someone they have lost – a family member, close friend, acquaintance. They are part of the event too, in spirit. As Adams says, “I wish my dad could be here to walk with me.”
According to Mustang’s Relay for Life web page, more than 47 teams, comprising of 368 participants, have so far raised more than $29,689 for cancer research. Those figures are not complete, organizers say, and only part of the picture.
Relay for Life will be held at Mustang High School football field, and members of the public are invited – and encouraged – to attend the event.
By Traci Chapman
Cindy Baker is always there – with a hug, a smile, a tissue, kind words.
She is there at the worst of times, bringing help and hope to families who have been suddenly thrust into an unknown world, a parallel universe where someone they love has been the victim of a violent crime. It doesn’t matter if it’s rape, domestic abuse, murder – to Baker, they are all the same and they are something to be tackled with love and understanding.
“I want to thank this (district attorney’s) office, I want to thank Cindy Baker – I don’t know what we would have done without her through this time,” said Anita Gibbins, whose sister, Amy, and nephew, Bryor, were killed last June.
It’s a sentiment echoed by many of the people who have walked through Canadian County district attorney’s office doors, when they met more than the people who would work to convict the person responsible for their loss. It was there they met Baker, the longtime victim coordinator assistant. Over the years she would become a friend and guide through a painful part of their lives. It’s a job, but it’s so much more to her, District Attorney Michael Fields said.
“She’s someone special, you watch her with the victims and you know how much she cares about them,” he said.
Baker attends countless hearings, takes never-ending phone calls, but it’s at the office’s annual candlelight vigil where she really shines, officials say. It’s an opportunity for victims and their families to come together – to mourn, to support each other, to look for answers, and hopefully, to find some peace, even if it’s just for a bit, Baker said.
“It’s something that’s come to mean as much to me as it has to the families,” Baker said last year. “There’s so much we want to do for them.”
And do for them she has, as was evidenced by the people who stood up during Monday’s vigil to thank her – and the rest of the DA’s staff – for their help. Beyond justice for their loved ones, Baker and the others have offered at least a beacon of light for them, much as the candles mark the conclusion of each annual vigil.
This year was different for the woman who organizes each year an event for others. While not a victim of violent crime, Baker’s world was shaken recently when her 16-year-old grandson, Karson, was killed in an automobile accident. She shares in their loss while remembering her own, still a beacon for them through her own tears, Fields said.
“I thought this might be hard for her, but I also think it might help Cindy with some healing as well,” he said.
Baker honors Karson and his memory every day, in the way she helps others, her co-workers say. It’s a scenario where a job was truly created just for one person.
Years ago, Baker said she felt blessed by God to have the position she holds. Now heading toward her 20th year in the victim coordinator position, she is known for her caring and compassion by victims, her co-workers and beyond. In 2012, she was named Outstanding Victim Witness Services Employee of the Year by the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association.
“Cindy is very deserving of this award,” Fields said at the time. “In my mind, she epitomizes the highest ideals of public service.
“She has a heart for people and it really shines through in her work,” he said.
Baker was nominated by her fellow employees and selected by ODAA’s board of directors at its annual meeting, Fields said.
The county’s Victim Witness Program is part of a five-county effort in Canadian, Blaine, Garfield, Grant and Kingfisher counties. Baker – and her counterparts in the other locations – work with victims and their families throughout the criminal justice process. From applying for financial assistance to notifying victims about court hearings and the status of an offender’s parole or incarceration, Baker is the primary link between victims and the system which could ultimately try and punish those behind the violence which changed their lives.
“Crime victims deserve our understanding, our compassion and our respect – Cindy Baker understands this,” Fields said. “She is a respected, effective voice for victims of crime.”
For the families she deals with, Baker is something much simpler – a friend. Her spirit, as well as those taken too soon, were part of Monday’s candlelight vigil.
“It’s been difficult, but you’ve always been there and we love you,” Nina Bryan told her.
Redlands Community College sophomore Jamie Deans take her riding to a new level as she moves on to national competition.
Deans, from Yukon, earned the honor after her recent win as reserve champion in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association semifinals.
Deans only began competing in western riding contests last April, when her Redlands instructor encouraged her to take a chance.
“I was nervous about it, but once I started, I loved it,” Deans said. “Since starting I have won a regional championship, reserve championship and reserve zone championship. “
The IHSA western show features competition where the student draws a horse he or she has never before ridden. With no time to warm up, the competitor must deal with issues that come up during the session, Redlands equestrian coach Meriruth Cohenour said.
“This makes mental skill just as important as physical skill,” Cohenour said. “The rider has to learn on the fly and deal with the situation as it arises, all while being judged.”
In order to qualify for regional competition, riders must earn enough points in the regular season. Deans had to compete against eight other students to earn the title of regional champion. After that, she moved into the semifinals where she made it through the preliminary round and won the reserve championship during finals.
Deans will be heading to Harrington, Pa. on May 4 to compete in the National Championship against the top 12 students in the United States.
I am so thankful for those who have pushed me and taught me, I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Mustang District Teacher of the Year Kent Hathaway was recognized at Oklahoma City Council’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday morning as Teacher of the Month. (Photo/courtesy Shannon Rigsby)
Mustang Public Schools will hold its annual job fair April 10.
Scheduled for 4 p.m. until 7 p.m., the event is for both certified and support staff, said Shannon Rigsby, MPS public information officer. It will be a come-and-go event where applicants may speak with administrators, present their resume and ask questions.
“Even if a position is not open, but candidates want to be considered for future openings, they are encouraged to attend,” Rigsby said.
The fair will be held at Mustang High School’s commons, located at 801 S. Snyder Drive. Applicants are asked to bring multiple copies of their resumes, as well as a completed MPS application, if the district does not yet have one on file, Rigsby said.
To see a list of current openings for certified and support, stop by the district website, www.mustangps.org, and click on the employment tab.
A 16-year-old girl was killed Thursday night in a head-on collision on Mustang Road.
Sgt. Gary Knight of Oklahoma City Police Department said Friday Rachel Scarberry, 16, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which occurred shortly after 9 p.m. near SW 38th Street and Mustang Road.
Scarberry was driving a red Ford Focus northbound on Mustang Road when she veered left of center, striking a Ford F250 head-on. The other driver, who was not identified, was not injured, Knight said.
“It’s our understanding Ms. Scarberry had only had her license for a few weeks,” the sergeant said.
It was not known why Scarberry strayed into the other lane, and the investigation into the accident is expected to “take weeks,” Knight said.