Laci Peterson's mother stared into the bright lights of dozens of camera crews Monday to give her daughter something that had been taken away.
"In my mind," Sharon Rocha said, "I keep hearing Laci say to me, 'Mom, please find me and Conner and bring us home. I'm scared. Please don't leave us out here all alone. I want to come home. Please don't stop looking for us.'"
Behind Rocha, Laci Peterson's other fam-ily members broke into sobs. Her friends, mostly seated together in the front row, began leaning into each other, holding on for strength. Veteran reporters set down their pens to wipe away tears.
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Rocha's speech served as the emotional crescendo to Monday's news conference at the Modesto Police Department -- the first time the Rocha family spoke publicly since learning that Laci's body had been recovered.
Moments later, Rocha focused seething words toward her daughter's killer. Again, Rocha brought back the thought of her daughter's voice.
"I can only hope that the sound of Laci's voice begging for her life and begging for the life of her unborn child is heard over and over and over again in the mind of that person every day for the rest of his life," Rocha said.
"The person responsible should be held accountable and punished for the tragedy and devastation forced upon so many of us."
Rocha stopped short of naming Scott Peterson as her daughter's suspected killer.
"I know you guys want us to say something about Scott," Laci's step-father, Ron Grantski said earlier in the news conference. "We're not going to do that. ... I feel sorry for (Scott's parents,) Jackie and Lee. They don't deserve this. But Laci and our family didn't either."
Dennis Rocha, Laci's father, gave a short speech, thanking those who had helped in the effort to find his daughter. News conferences have been extremely difficult for him emotionally, and he seemed unable to finish Monday.
One of Laci's longtime friends, Rene Tomlinson, spoke about the qualities that drew so many people to want to be around Laci.
"She taught us how to laugh," Tomlinson said. "And not just giggle. How to laugh loud and often."
Sharon Rocha used the first half of her statement to thank all the volunteers who helped the family, posting fliers and searching.
"If Laci were here now, she'd be absolutely amazed at the outpouring of love and concern for her and Conner," Rocha said. "I know in my heart she is fully aware of the love we have for her."
In the four months since Laci Peterson was reported missing on Christmas Eve, Rocha's public demeanor has remained somewhat measured. Rocha has offered the world honest emotion and heartfelt words, but there always was a sense she was holding back from saying everything she was thinking and feeling.
That ended Monday.
Throughout her speech, Rocha's words were raw, reflective of the harsh circumstances of her daughter's fate.
"Laci and her unborn child did not deserve to die," Rocha said. "They certainly did not deserve to be dumped in the bay and sent to a
watery grave as though their lives were meaningless."
As Rocha seethed, her words beamed throughout a nation that has come to know her family's tragedy all too well. When the sobs threatened to overwhelm her, Grantski moved in to offer support.
"I literally get sick to my stomach when I allow myself to think about what may have happened to them," Rocha said.
"No parent should ever have to think about the way their child was murdered."
Bee staff writer Ty Phillips can be reached at 578-2331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.