Jardine: The depth of a mother's loss revealed

September 4, 2010 

JJ Muller Family

(JEFF JARDINE / jjardine@modbee.com) - Julie Muller left and sister Nancy Fife hold a photo of Gary Muller who was killed in a hit and run accident in 1993 near Newman. They are pictured on Thursday morning (09-02-10) in Oakdale.

JEFF JARDINE — Modesto Bee

A mother's journal, a mother's pain.

From the time her son was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 1993 until her own death nearly two years ago, Barbara Muller's heart never stopped aching.

Her daughters hurt with her, as did other family members and friends. But until last week, they didn't know the depth of the former Newman woman's grief.

Gary Muller died Aug. 11, 1993, walking along Highway 33 near Newman. He was returning from a friend's house. California Highway Patrol investigators believe Muller, 21, was hit by a tractor-trailer, based upon the severity of his injuries.

Another trucker found his body along the road at 1:30 a.m., according to newspaper accounts.

Did the driver, in a moment of panic, flee the scene? Or did he even know he'd hit someone?

Was Gary Muller hit by one vehicle and then by the big rig, as yet another theory suggests?

Despite pleading to the public for information, the CHP never made an arrest. The person who killed Gary Muller never faced charges. The case remains open but cold, and the incident report is in storage in Sacramento, not in the files of the Modesto office.

Barring some incredible break, the case is likely to remain unsolved.

Barbara Muller never learned who killed her son, and it weighed heavily on her for the rest of her life. Cancer claimed her Dec. 15, 2008, in Florida, where she had moved with her husband, Bill, in 2001.

Last week, daughter Nancy Fife of Oakdale and her family went to Florida to see her father.

"It made it too hard (for Nancy and Bill) to stay in Newman after my brother died," Fife said. "The person who killed him also took our family away from us."

During the visit, her father showed her two volumes of a journal Barbara Muller kept over the years, along with a Bible given to Gary when he was a boy.

"He asked if I wanted them, and I said yes," Fife said. "He warned me, 'They're tearjerkers. They will make you cry.' "

When she returned to California, she and sister Julie Muller of Ceres began reading the passages that had been written over several years.

One year Gary's been gone, Barbara Muller wrote on Aug. 11, 1994. Didn't sleep very good at all last night -- I'm going to take some flowers to the cemetery today, sort pictures & think & cry. That's what I want to do. ... I need to think of Gary and let my feelings flow.

In another entry, she wrote:

My heart is heavy today -- I miss Gary so much -- the pain is so hard. My baby is gone. I'll never see that face again -- hear that voice -- the laughter -- the griping -- nothing -- nothing -- 1:30 again.

And,

Had a bad dream about Gary -- He was maimed and crippled -- had a gun and shot me. He blamed me for being that way -- Had trouble getting back to sleep -- I think I just feel guilty for having a good day.

In these entries and many more, she poured out her emotions, writing things she never said to her daughters.

So when they read them, they relived their loss of 17 years ago.

"It brought it all back," Muller said. "I've never lost a child. To read her journal, to feel the pain she endured ... she kept a lot inside."

Muller, deeply spiritual, needed to know that God was there for her mom, and that her mom walked with Him.

"I asked God, 'Did she know you? Did she count on you?" Muller said. "Did you understand her pain and how she felt? She lost her only son. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, 'Of course, I understand. I gave up my only son.' "

When she read the diaries and her brother's old Bible, she found bookmarks bearing a spiritual poem by Mary Stevenson titled, "Footprints In the Sand" along with rose petals from the flowers at Gary's funeral. She found the same poem alongside a photograph of Gary in her mom's wallet.

Reassured that God was with her mom, Muller believes her mother still deserves to know what really happened to Gary, and for others to understand the pain and torment his death caused in all their lives.

"I don't want people to forget," she said.

The person who killed her brother, Muller said, will have to answer for it some day.

"It's not for us to judge," she said. "God will get his revenge. As Christians, we have to forgive. But we don't have to forget."

The sisters hope someone will remember something about that night, or finally be overcome by remorse and come forward to take responsibility.

Said Fife:

"How can you go on living with yourself?"

Because cowardly, callously or unaware, the driver left more than a dead young man behind that early morning in 1993.

As detailed so painstakingly in each of her journal entries, Barbara Muller was tortured by her son's death for the rest of her life.

Anyone with information about Gary Muller's death can contact the California Highway Patrol's Modesto office at 545-7440.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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