At the end of every day, when Judi Richardson goes to bed, she said she thinks of her daughter who is dead. She thinks of the fear and emotional trauma her daughter, Darien, experienced when she was awoken in the early morning of Jan. 8, 2010, in what should have been a safe place — her bedroom — by a masked man with a gun.
The point, Judi, 53, of South Portland, said, is not that Darien was a kind, intelligent, loving person who graduated from Bowdoin College with a major in sociology and a minor in education. The point is not, Judi said, that her daughter was “beautiful inside and out,” wanted to be a teacher, was taking graduate classes at the University of New England or that she loved to dance or participate in sports.
She did all those things. But the point is that she should have been safe, and she’s far from the only victim of gun violence. “No one should ever have to live through that, to wake up in the middle of the night with some person in your room, shooting. It’s like the Dark Ages,” Judi said. “I could fill a book about how wonderful she is, but the point is that this shouldn’t happen to anybody.”
Police said Darien was shot in the leg and hand in her Portland duplex and initially survived. She was scheduled for several surgeries. But she died the following month, on Feb. 28, from a pulmonary embolism resulting from the gunshot wound. She was 25. The gunman has not been found.
Something might have helped police identify the shooter. In fact, it’s already in place for most, but not all, gun sales. It’s even something most people support when they’re polled: universal background checks. Police were unable to trace the .45 semiautomatic pistol used to kill Darien because it had been sold privately by someone at a gun show who did not run a background check and did not keep records of the transaction.
Congress should approve universal background checks. It’s abhorrent that a criminal or someone who had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution can simply avoid the gun store and purchase a firearm at a gun show. Background checks are not an imposition on those permitted to own guns; they prevent people for whom it’s already illegal to buy guns from making the purchase.
Some people who run gun shows already require that sellers conduct background checks. And for everyday-type sales, it would not be inconvenient for a seller to go to a licensed gun dealer and pay a small fee for a background check on a prospective buyer. More than 450 licensed gun dealers operate in Maine. In comparison, there are about 430 post offices and about 60 McDonald’s locations.
If the gun-show loophole didn’t exist, it’s possible Darien’s killer would have been caught.
“It might have helped if there was a trail that would lead us to who did this. The person who shot my daughter is still out there,” Judi said.
Wayne Richardson, 58, Darien’s father, added, “Some people think [a background check is] an inconvenience, but what’s a small inconvenience if it’s going to save someone’s life?”
The Richardsons have taken their plea from Maine, where they have teamed with Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, to the federal level. In February, they joined 120 gun-violence survivors and family members of victims in Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to enact background checks.
There, they met first lady Michelle Obama, who listened to their story and saw photos of Darien. “They are parents, like us, with two daughters, and we talked about that and the pain of having one taken by violence,” Judi said.
Police did find the gun used to ultimately kill Darien. It was used in another killing in Portland about a month after she was shot. The two cases are not connected, police said, except for the gun used. They just don’t know where it came from.
It may be too late to find Darien’s killer, but it should not be too late to prevent more tragedies. The Senate is planning a bill that would expand background checks. There is an opening for a positive change.
Independent Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, are likely to support universal background checks. Will Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District?
Maine’s delegation should remember Darien as her parents do. “There are no words that adequately convey the heartache that comes from such a loss. We miss her every hour of every day. … We miss her kind and helpful ways and her carefree, fun-loving energy. Most of all we miss her love,” Judi said.
Wayne remembers her as “the type of person who could just walk into a room and light it up with her smile.”
The Richardsons run the nonprofit Remembering Darien, which will benefit from proceeds earned at the third annual Walk to Remember Darien and Other Victims of Violent Crimes on Saturday, March 23, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Back Cove in Portland.