Thursday, December 11, 2003

We went to Liz's mommy's funeral. She was very special. Liz talked about her mommy which must have been really hard. She said something that really stuck in my mind. She said that there was never a day -- and there will never be a day -- that she didn't know that her mother loved her, believed in her and was proud of her. I hope that is true for you.

Slain Del Ray Woman Remembered as 'Gift'

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2003; Page B01

In the week since her death, Nancy Dunning has been remembered as the heart of her close-knit Alexandria community, the person residents turned to when they needed a volunteer or information on the history of a neighborhood home.

But yesterday, in an emotional funeral not far from the house in the Del Ray neighborhood where she was found slain last week, the real estate agent and wife of city Sheriff James H. Dunning was also remembered as a beloved sister, mother and wife by those who were closest to her.

"She wasn't just people's neighbor, or real estate agent, or neighborhood activist or [local newspaper] columnist. She was their friend," said Dunning's daughter, Elizabeth, 26, who gave the eulogy at the end of the hour-long service. "She wanted to know more about people . . . so she lit people up when she talked to them."

The service was attended by hundreds of mourners, including many of Dunning's large family -- she was one of 12 children in a Connecticut family -- who sat in several rows in the front of the church. They were joined by real estate colleagues, state lawmakers, City Council members and friends so numerous that many had to stand in the aisles of St. Rita Catholic Church, where the altar was adorned with flowers and candles.

"We have all died this death," said the Rev. Jim Walsh, a family friend who led the service. He said he had known Nancy Dunning for more than three decades and married the Dunnings 28 years ago.

"She was a gift . . . and directly or indirectly was a gift for each of us here today," he said.

Police officials said yesterday that the investigation into Dunning's death is continuing, but they would not release further details, including the circumstances of her death. Sources said yesterday that there was no sign at the house of forced entry, which has continued to shake the Del Ray community this week.

Dunning was shot multiple times. Sources have said she was found at the bottom of the stairs of her home last Friday by a family member, whom police have declined to identify. Friends said that she was to meet her son, Christopher, and her husband for lunch and that one or both returned to the house when she did not arrive.

The family held a private wake Wednesday afternoon.

A reward fund has been set up for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. Organizers said they had raised $50,000 by earlier this week.

Dunning's slaying came just three months after the killing of a T.C. Williams High School student who was fatally beaten in Market Square, and nearly four years after 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett was killed on his grandparents' Del Ray lawn; a stranger is charged in that slaying.

Nancy Dunning "made this community a family," said U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D), a former Del Ray resident who spoke to reporters after the yesterday's service. Moran is a close friend of the Dunnings', and his first cousin was married to Nancy Dunning's sister Patricia. "This is a tremendous loss."

Many of the nearly 1,000 people who had attended the funeral later met at a car dealership owned by Jack Taylor, a friend of the Dunnings'. In the showroom -- bereft of the usual automobiles -- friends had erected easels with large photos and collages of Dunning as a child and later as a Del Ray mother and businesswoman.

The showroom was decorated with Del Ray Street signs -- including "West Mount Ida Ave.," where the family has lived for about 20 years, and posters from several festivals that "the Queen of Del Ray" had helped organize.

I guess I'll always know where I was on December 11, 2002 and 2003.

Sadly, Liz never really got to say "goodbye," the forever kind, to her mom. I was talking to Linda and Ari feels like he never had the chance to say goodbye to you. This is from a book that Ari wrote about the two of you. A lot of it talks about how good friends you were. I picked out some of the highlights.

Happy Henry, By Ari
He is so brave. He has courage.

After the funeral we picked up Jack at school. This flyer was in his backpack.

Nana lent me this picture. This is from your graduation from kindergarten. You were so happy and proud. We were happy, scared and very, very proud of you.

Jack asked if we could swing by Childs Play to get something to leave on your grave. Mom picked out some marbles. Jack bought Pokemon cards. He has totally forgotten Yu Gi Oh and now only cares about Pokemon. Strange. We ran into Matthew Lavine. I told Mom that I like living in Washington because you get to run into friends all of the time. We are going to take Matthew and Jack rock climbing in a week or so.

I cried the whole way out to the cemetery. I put on the CD of all your favorite songs that we made to give out at your funeral. That really helped -- not. Jack was pretty sad. I reached back and held his hand. It reminded me of holding your hand in the car up in Martha's Vineyard.

When we got to the cemetery the gates were closing, just like the prayer. The man at the gate told us that we couldn't come in but we just ran by him and said we just wanted to say hello to our son -- you. It was windy and cold so we didn't stay too long. We'll be back.

We stopped off at Cactus for dinner in your honor. At home we lit a candle.

Right now I am sitting with Nana and Mommy at the dining room table watching movies of all of us from when you were born until today. We are watching the day you left the hospital after your transplant. Jack is looking at your head and he says, "Henry's hair is growing in." He was very excited. You are wearing a Batman shirt and are clutching a bag of Fritos. I forgot about the Bat Symbol that I painted on your window. That was pretty cool.

Jack pulled you in a wagon out of your room to the escalator and then out to the car. Mommy said to me the other day that of all of us, his life has been the hardest. I agree. Today we told him how proud we are of how well he has made it through this very hard year. He loves you. We all love you and miss you.

Good night.

p.s. I have asked everyone I know who has photos of you that we don't have to give me copies for my birthday. I hope I get a lot of good pictures and memories to put up here.

p.p.s. I started writing a list at Thanksgiving of what I am thankful for. I also started writing a list of things I've learned in this year since you've died. I am going to get those up for you soon.

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