Special Reports

May 29, 2002

1,200 gather to pay respects to Levy

Kathy Wetherbee knows what it is like to lose a child. Years ago, the Modesto woman's 2-year-old son died of a viral infection.

Yet, Wetherbee said, she can only imagine the anguish that Robert and Susan Levy have endured since their daughter, Chandra Levy, disappeared in Washington, D.C., nearly 13 months ago. Her remains were found a week ago in a District of Columbia park.

"To go through a year of it it's really heart-rending," she said. "Such an ordeal they've been through."

Wetherbee was among the 1,200 or so people who came to Modesto Centre Plaza on a sun-filled Tuesday to pay their respects to the 24-year-old Levy, who grew up in Modesto.

They came to support her parents, to show their love, to be there.

"(The Levys will) feel better with lots of people showing up," family friend Michael Van Hille of Modesto said before the service began.

Van Hille and many others heading to the service had to walk past a parking lot jam-packed with television trucks with their satellite masts reaching for the sky.

They crossed the red-brick bridge over Centre Plaza's waterway and funneled through a swarm of media. The assemblage of cameras, lights, microphones and notebooks turned the plaza into a mishmash of impromptu TV studios.

People ambled past correspondents dabbing on makeup between live shots.

None of it deterred them.

"I think I'd have been here even if I didn't know them," said Wetherbee, who met the Levys at a Unity Church function in Modesto.

Jason Visola, activities director at Evergreen Rehabilitation Care Center in Modesto, accompanied four of his patients.

"They watched this," he said, referring to Levy coverage on television. "They've all been affected by everything that happened."

Roscoe Jarrell, Catherine McKay, Patricia Ott and Alma Goldener sat four abreast in their wheelchairs, facing the convention center's entrance. They chose not to go inside, fearing that they would take up too much room.

"We just wanted to pay our respects," Goldener said.

None of the four knew Chandra Levy or know her parents. They did not need to.

Neither did Jan Stiles of Modesto, who came simply because she is a parent.

"Just to support them," she said. "We have great empathy for the Levys. I have five children."

Kristina Holland, a former Ceres resident who is an independent filmmaker in Los Angeles, said she was drawn to the service for a different reason.

She has been working on a documentary on Ceres Rep. Gary Condit, following him for two months until the March 5 primary election. Chandra Levy's relationship with Condit became a storm of controversy that led to his political defeat.

"I've been so absorbed in that," said Holland, who came to the service without a camera. "I needed to see the other side. It was a very lovely service. You feel like you know her. We may not have known her, but we feel like we do."

While many others said they hoped the service brought a sense of closure for the Levys, Janice Gray of Modesto suggests that will never happen.

"It isn't like you're going to heal or get well," said Gray, who is involved with the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation and became friends with the Levys during the past year. "You go on. Their challenge is getting up and facing the day."

Gray, like so many others Tuesday, attended the ceremony because it was the right thing to do.

"There's nothing you can say," she said. "The one thing you can do for them is to be there. That is the best statement you can make."

Bee staff writer Jeff Jardine can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com.

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