"We were going to be grandparents:" Mother holds candlelight vigil for murdered pregnant daughter
For several seconds, Cathy Staver focused on the flicker cupped in her hands. Then the trance broke, and the Scales Mound resident spoke.
"It's too late for my daughter."
Mourners honored domestic violence victim Betsy Sue Riggin at a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening. It was a life ended too soon, family and friends said. Staver tried to make meaning of the tragedy by sharing her advice.
"Don't let it be too late for yours."
On Thursday, May 6, the Baltimore Police Department received a phone call. Riggin, a Galena native, had failed to come to work that day or respond to messages - all of which was "very unusual," a friend reported. Shortly after the call, officers found Riggin dead beneath her bed, bruises covering her body.
The next day, according to court documents, Andrew Jackson confessed to strangling his 29-year-old girlfriend. She was five months pregnant, according to her family.
'She was too strong'
Staver was angry.
"(My daughter) loved this man," she told the crowd. "She told us he was wonderful."
Riggin and Jackson shared a love story that left questions.
"She told us she met him at a salad bar in a grocery store," Staver said. "I took her at her word."
However, the story seems sketchy, according to authorities quoted in the Baltimore Sun. They say Riggin met Jackson at her job as a food services manager at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where Jackson served time in early 2008. His 13 arrests include theft, drug and handgun convictions, and domestic violence allegations. Yet Staver said her daughter never mentioned these things, instead focusing on how happy she was about the future she would share with Jackson. She even saved the positive pregnancy test.
"I refuse to believe that she would associate with somebody knowing all of that about him," Staver said. "She was too strong."
More than 75 people gathered at Grant Park in Galena for the vigil.
Pastors prayed for the family. Staff from area organizations spoke against domestic violence. One woman who said she had been stabbed nine times by an abusive boyfriend shared her story with the family, saying she wanted to support them in any way she could. But throughout, the family reminded the crowd that two lives were lost last week.
"We were going to be grandparents," Staver said.
Riggin was supposed to have an ultrasound the day after she died that would have determined the fetus' gender. Instead of hearing the news from her daughter, Staver learned from an autopsy report that she would have had a grandson. The family named the unborn child Weldon Joseph, after Riggin's father.
According to Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office officials, the office is investigating whether Jackson can be charged in his child's death. Maryland law says he can be charged if it is determined the fetus would have been viable outside the womb.
In 2008, Jackson had been sentenced to eight years in prison for auto theft. He served a month before being released on probation. What happened next was a series of unfortunate events, according to the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office. On April 8, he was arrested for violating the conditions of his parole, but he was released on April 9 after paying a $10,000 bail. On April 17, he was again arrested, this time following a series of traffic events that included an accident that caused injuries and leaving the scene of the accident. On April 28, his probation officer submitted a report to an area judge saying that he thought Jackson was a threat to public safety and should be held without bail. The judge agreed, asking the probation officer to submit the necessary paperwork to file a warrant. Before that could be done, Riggin was strangled.
'It's worse than that'
"Nobody should have to go through this," Staver said. "Nobody should have to feel this pain. But it's not even pain. It's worse than that."
On Saturday, Staver will attend a funeral for her daughter and her grandson. But on Tuesday, she wanted to impress a message upon those willing to listen.
"Hug your babies," she said. "Hug your babies no matter if they're 1 or 30 or 50, because you never know when they'll be gone."
Then she collapsed into the arms of her other baby - her son, David Bauer, of Elizabeth.
Moments later, as the crowd sat silent, Staver gripped the candle honoring her daughter's life and blew out the flame, the smoke wisping to the heavens.