Day of grief dawns, finds many heavy hearts

04/19/2003 8:05 AM

11/20/2007 6:18 AM

Even though many presumed a tragic end for Laci Peterson and her unborn son, Conner, Good Friday's grim news still shocked those who knew her and those who only knew of her.

Laci Peterson's family asked the media to give them time "to deal with these recent developments."

Friday afternoon, Laci's father, Dennis Rocha, said he only knew there was going to be a news conference. He, too, was waiting to hear the latest.

After officials said Friday the bodies found in the Bay Area earlier this week were Laci Peterson and her son and announced the arrest of her husband, Scott Peterson, Dennis Rocha's cell phone was turned off and he was not answering calls at his home.

Sharon Rocha and Ron Grant-ski, the missing woman's mother and stepfather, also could not be reached for comment.

A sign on the front door of their home near Oakdale Road and Scenic Drive asked reporters to respect their privacy and direct questions to Kim Peter-sen, the Rocha family's spokeswoman.

Longtime neighbors Bob and Shirley Dickerson said their hearts went out to the Grantskis.

"We pray for the best for the family," Bob Dickerson said. "If (Scott Peterson) did it, we hope he gets his just reward."

Scott Peterson's friends and family weren't talking.

Calls to his parents, brother and sister were not returned. A sign was hung on his sister's front door in San Diego. It asked reporters to leave them alone: "We are not commenting."

Laci's friends also declined to comment.

"They are distraught and don't really want to talk," said a man who answered Terri Western's phone Friday. Western is a friend of the Rocha family. Her daughter, Stacey Boyers, was one of Laci's best friends.

At Laci Peterson's Modesto home on Covena Avenue, the awful news triggered a pilgrimage Friday evening that continued throughout the night.

Most of those who came to pay their respects had never met the 27-year-old Modesto woman who was reported missing on Christmas Eve. Nonetheless, they came from every corner of Modesto bearing candles, Teddy bears and Easter lilies for the makeshift front-yard shrine. Many said they haven't stopped thinking about Peterson since she was first reported missing -- her poster filling countless store windows and her name a common nightly news soundbite.

People drawn to her story

But many said Laci Peterson captured their hearts simply because the young woman with the radiant smile reminded them of their sister, their daughter, their friend, someone they would have wanted to know.

Abbey Ringler, 12, and Heather Richars, 11, who live around the corner from the Peterson home had brought Easter lilies picked from Ringler's back yard. Ringler said she will miss waving to Peterson from her bike or seeing her substitute teaching at school.

"White is holy and sin-free," Ringler said of her flower offering. "Conner had no time to live in this world, and now he's gone."

Added Richars: "I think it's a sign from God that this happened on Good Friday. I believe she is in heaven."

But both girls had one question: If Scott Peterson killed his wife, why? The Peterson couple had always appeared happy and normal, they said.

"He must have loved her at one point, I mean, he married her," Ringler said, her red eyes filling with tears.

Viviana New, 6, knelt to pray next to the cross her family had planted in the ground.

"I'm sad she died because everybody knows she was a good lady with a good heart," said Viviana, clinging close to her aunt, Delphina Alvarado, 32, who lives on La Loma Avenue, one street over from Covena. Alvarado said while the news is overwhelmingly sad, it's also a relief for people in the neighborhood.

"We don't have to stay indoors anymore wondering who did it," she said. "For months I was afraid and I didn't let the children go outside."

Others who visited the Covena shrine said the identification of Laci Peterson and her unborn son triggered memories of losses in their own lives.

Teresa Servin, 32, said the news brought back the miscarriage she grieved four years ago.

"Just like Conner, my baby was an innocent being," Servin said in Spanish, her arm wrapped tightly around her mother, Natividad Rodriguez Servin. "The loss of a child is great. I can't imagine the pain her family is feeling."

Sisters Sabrina Khano, 19, and Natalia Diryawush, 26, said adding flowers to the shrine was their way of paying their condolences to the family. They also remembered their sister, who was killed in a car accident three years ago, Diryawush said.

"I wanted to be here," she said. "Everyone in town needs closure to this tragedy. She was an angel and God takes the best."

The somber scene in the Covena neighborhood contrasted the one at the Police Department in downtown Modesto. Prior to the news conference Friday, hundreds of people converged on the Police Department at 10th and G streets. Scores of wires snaked from news trucks -- parked wherever they could fit, some halfway up on the curb -- through the Police Department's front door, down the hallways and into an auditorium.

Inside, 25 news cameras pointed toward a podium obliterated beneath dozens of microphones in anticipation of the shocking news that was to come.

Bee staff writers Ty Phillips, Patrick Giblin, Julissa McKinnon and David W. Hill contributed to this report.

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