I was checking the news before bed tonight, and I saw that Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, is dead. It was a little strange for me to learn this, because it comes on the heels of a conversation I had with my son just a few weeks ago. Before that I hadn't thought of Ramirez for years.
My son had come over to hang out, and he asked me about Ramirez and what it was like then. The question came up because my son had posted about the killer on his tumblr blog, Today in Depressing History, back in April.
We lived in the city of Orange in the year of 1985, with our brand new baby boy, when Ramirez was doing his serial killing. CNN's Greg Botelho describes that time this way:
A serial murderer, a serial rapist, a Satan worshiper, a man who inflicted physical and emotional pain on his victims in myriad ways. Richard Ramirez was all those things, but to Californians terrorized during his violent spree in the spring and summer of 1985, he was simply the "Night Stalker."
Botelho didn't come close to capturing the feeling. Yes, we were terrorized, but it was a terror that went on, night after night, week after week, seemingly without end. At first they called him the "Walk-In Killer," because he simply walked into the homes of so many of his victims, through slider doors or windows left open to the cooling night air. Even after checking that every one of our windows and doors was firmly locked before we went to bed, we didn't sleep well. The word was out that his victims all lived close to freeways, and our house was just a few blocks away from three different freeways (just below the "O" of "Orange" on the interactive map (move the map up a bit), two towns south of Fullerton and Yorba Linda).
We lived on a short cul de sac and knew our neighbors pretty well. Every morning we checked the paper for news, dreading there being another victim and hoping for word of the killer's capture. Every evening the neighbors would all talk about the latest that we'd learned, trying to glean some bit of information that might make us safer.
The men on our block, especially, felt the burden of trying to safeguard their families. Finally, three or four of the men, all of whom owned guns, decided to mount an all-night, armed patrol. Each one took a two-hour shift on the roof of his own house and watched over the street. The neighbor a couple doors down told us one morning that during his shift that night, a van had cruised into the cul de sac as though casing the place. When the neighbor made his and his shotgun's presence known, the van turned and rushed away.
We slept well, in peace, through the nights of those two weeks of patrol, but the men were getting tired. They started talking about reducing the patrols. And then the news came that Ramirez, who had only a day or two before been identified as the suspect, was caught and had the crap beaten out of him by some people in Los Angeles. It was satisfying to hear that, but I was disappointed that the police stopped them before they finished him off, because the relentless fear he put us through--millions of us in the greater Los Angeles area--deserved so much worse than the beating they gave him.
The death of Richard Ramirez today doesn't make us safer, since he was securely behind bars, but it does remove the possibility of his escape. He was an unrepentant, savage murderer, and I for one am glad he no longer draws breath but is enduring the torment he chose for himself while he lived. May God have mercy on me for my hard heart.