Tributes to Laci: Her memory will live on in portraits, poetry and song

June 14, 2003 

Tributes to Laci Peterson and her unborn son continue to flow more than five months after her Christmastime disappearance captured national attention.

Hundreds of poems and many songs and drawings pour into The Bee and to the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, which supports the families of missing people.

"Every one of them is just beautiful," said Sharon Rocha, Laci Peterson's mother. "It absolutely amazes me, the thoughtfulness of people."

Recent tributes include an oil painting by a professional artist living in the slain woman's neighborhood; a soft-rock tune composed by her Federal Express driver; a blues song about Scott Peterson's fishing trip; and a sketch by a prison inmate.

Scott Peterson is in county jail awaiting a July preliminary hearing on double-murder charges. He has pleaded not guilty; prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

Bob Davidson, 63, didn't know the Petersons but would cross paths with the pregnant woman as they both took morning walks in the La Loma area. A professional artist, he agreed to do an oil-on-canvas painting at the request of a friend who is a Sund-Carrington Foundation board member.

Davidson devoted 125 hours over 1 1/2 months to the portrait. Although similar work would fetch about $1,500, Davidson did it for nothing and gave the painting to Rocha.

"She's in heaven and is OK -- that's what I tried to depict," said Davidson, who has done portraits for the likes of athletes Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Less likely to mingle with sports stars is former Modesto resident Billy Cherokee Smith, an inmate at Deuel Vocational Institution near Tracy. He used a pencil to sketch a likeness of Laci Peterson's infectious smile.

"It hurts me to feel the loss of such a beautiful lady and child," Smith wrote in a note to Rocha and her family.

Rocha said she was a bit taken aback when, months ago, a letter arrived from an inmate. Since then, she's received many -- and appreciates every one.

Said Rocha, "I'm at a loss for words."

Internet users have visited a Bee Web page with a link to an audio recording 15,300 times in the two weeks since an article appeared about musical tributes to the now-famous mother and child. It features a song called "Remembering Laci" by Escalon's John Strand.

Joining that song at www.modbee.com is "Straight to Heaven" by Oakland musician Tony Handy, and "Laci's Song" by Jim Maris of Modesto.

Maris said he spoke several times with Laci Peterson, and a couple of times with Scott, while delivering packages in their neighborhood for Federal Express. She liked to order clothing from Gap and Old Navy, Maris said.

A part-time keyboardist who performs at weddings and restaurants, Maris was composing a song about the time Laci Peterson's family reported her missing in December. His teen-age daughter suggested a tribute and his wife, Amy, quickly put words to the tune.

A portion reads, "Your smile can reach around the world." Casey Paterson of Modesto sings for the version accessible at The Bee's Web site.

Frank DeLaMarre, a New Jersey artist, wrote a song in 1997 in memory of musician John Denver and produced another version for funerals. Laci Peterson's family played it at a May 4 public memorial attended by about 3,000, prompting DeLa-Marre to produce a special release of "Take Them Home."

In four days, it went from No. 16,288 to No. 6 at amazon.com's list of downloaded songs. It had slipped to No. 28 by Friday.

Other artists say they've put heart and soul into works that haven't been published or recorded.

Jerry Allard of Modesto, for example, wrote two blues songs, one in memory of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, that includes the lyrics "Everyday we'll sing the blues for you." The other rails on Scott Peterson, but Allard said, "I don't want to blast him (publicly). He's not been convicted."

Artistic outpouring in the wake of disaster is nothing new, said Peter Nelligan, director of the criminal justice master's program at California State University, Stanislaus. He noted tributes taking many forms after the assassination of President Kennedy, the car-crash death of Princess Diana, and terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

"What you're seeing is a phenomenon common in American culture," Nelligan said. "Our society creates celebrities, and people try to attach themselves to them.

"(High-profile tragedy) creates a great emotional response in people, and they want to express it."

Rocha said she has been touched by heartfelt expressions, most of which come from people she or her daughter never met. Many notes, she said, begin with words similar to "I've never done this before, but ."

Said Rocha, "When a complete stranger takes time out of their life to write a poem or a song and send it to us, it does change your life."

Poems, pictures and other information can be found at at www.lacipeterson.com.

To hear 'Laci's Song,' 'Straight to Heaven' and 'Remembering Laci,' go to www.modbee.com.

'Take Them Home'can be heard at www.frankdelamarre.com and www.amazon.com.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.

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