The mother of unsolved homicide victim Chandra Levy will talk to criminal justice students in Atlanta on Thursday as they begin a yearlong investigation into Levy's death.
Susan Levy said she'll speak not from a script, but "from the heart" about her daughter.
"It brings it back every time," she said. "It's very painful, especially when we start having the rains. Because you wonder how your child felt, how long they were out in the woods for. It never gets easier. But it may be therapeutic to talk about it."
The students at Atlanta's Bauder College will spend this year digging into Levy's 2001 disappearance. As part of the college's Cold Case Investigative Research Institute, they will weigh evidence, interview experts and, they hope, find connections missed by police detectives and FBI agents.
Raised in Modesto, Levy was a graduate student who just had completed a federal Bureau of Prisons internship when she disappeared in Washington, D.C. Her disappearance became fodder for widespread media coverage after reports, ultimately undisputed, that she had been romantically involved with married Rep. Gary Condit of Ceres.
Levy's remains were found in May 2002 in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park. Police haven't made an arrest.
Students this year also will probe the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway, a high school student from Alabama who vanished during a graduation trip in Aruba.
Holloway's mother could not attend the investigation's opening. She provided footage of her daughter and wrote a letter for the event, school officials said.
Institute director Sheryl Mc- Collum, a professor at Bauder who also runs the Cold Case Crime Analysis Squad for the Pine Lake Police Department in Georgia, said visits from the families of crime victims are crucial for students.
"They have to see these victims as real people. There's absolutely no better way to do that than through somebody's mama," she said. "Everybody knows what Natalee Holloway looks like. Everybody remembers Chandra Levy, but not as real people. When a mother is sitting four feet in front of you, students know they're answering to a real person."
Family members also can flesh out the victimology of each case, said McCollum, giving students a better understanding of the victims' lifestyles and how they might have become victims.
Mothers of victims from other Bauder investigations also will attend Thursday's session. The teenage son of Sirlena Cobb of Stone Mountain, Ga., went missing in 1979. Last year, when students looked at the case of Wayne Williams, whom police said was the key suspect in his death, Cobb spoke to students.
"It used to be really hard to talk about," she said. "Sometimes, it still is. You have your down days. This is the month, in 1980, when they found him and buried him. It's a tough month for me. But I'll be there. I just want to be supportive, tell them how I felt all these years, how I survived. And just give them a hug, because sometime you need that."
Susan Levy said Tuesday that she is looking forward to that support.
"It's good to meet with other parents, but you still have the same pain. You just know you're not alone in it," she said.
After the yearlong investigation, students will turn over their conclusions about the cases to prosecutors or police. But, for families of crime victims, the investigation is about more than that recommendation, McCollum said.
"Mothers can come back here. These mothers are connected to these students from now on," McCollum said. "Whether or not this case gets some big resolve, that's not the most important piece. It's that somebody still gives a damn."
Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2235.