Mary Michelle Fleming, known as Mickey to her family, was eighteen when she was brutually murdered by a serial killer. Noticing her walking home from a grocery store, he followed her and stabbed her and slit her throat, leaving her for dead after attempting and failing to rape her. Mickey was the baby of the family, with seven siblings, one of whom is the author, her brother Dennis. She had graduated high school and was ready for college and the rest of her life when Anthony J. LaRette, Jr. stole her dreams and plans from her.
But Larette didn't just kill Mickey. He also stole the heart and soul from the family. The author writes movingly of what the aftermath of such a brutal crime is, and what it does to the survivors. The Fleming family had not been the success story that we often expect families to be. Their history was full of abuse, emotional and physical, from alcoholic parents who let their demons escape over and affect their eight children. Dennis, like many of the siblings, got out of the house as soon as he could. He escaped himself into drugs and alcohol before realising that he wanted something more from life. He found the military and it helped him escape his background and find a purpose.
The book follows the family in the years after Mickey's murder until the execution fourteen years later of her murderer. The killer was found and arrested within two weeks, a blessing to the family, and one that was possible because Mickey found the strength to run for help even with her deadly injuries. It was determined once LaPrette was imprisoned that he had killed other women. He claimed to have killed thirty women, and law enforcement tied him to twenty-four.
Dennis Fleming had moved back home after his military career to try to help the rest of his family. After the murder, the old patterns of abuse and inter-familial betrayal re-emerged. His first marriage failed, and his wife and daughter left for another state. He entered several other relationships, some to hide his pain, and some to try to bring some stability into his life. Others in the family sunk into alcohol or drug abuse. Quarrels among family members erupted over money and possessions, and some members were estranged from others.
Fleming refused to let this one event determine his entire life. He continued his education, and although he made his living in a scientific lab, he spent his afterhours life writing and creating film as a way to process his thoughts on life. This creative outlet enabled him to carve out a successful life, never forgetting Mickey, but refusing to let a tragedy define him.
So much of what Dennis writes rings absolutely true. His description of the initial feelings after a loved one dies is stunning in its accuracy. He explores the hate he feels towards the killer, and how for a while his only desire was to kill the man who killed his sister. He writes about how it feels to go into a store and see magazines and newspapers selling copies based on the crime against a family member. Finally, he writes of the acceptance and ability to move beyond this personal tragedy. He viewed the execution of the man who murdered Mickey, but not out of vengance. He witnessed it to represent the family and to close the circle. Dennis Fleming is not an advocate of the death penalty; he believes such killers should be imprisoned and studied to understand what causes such behavior.
This book is highly recommended for readers searching for ways to move past tragedies, as well as for those interested in criminal justice and books about criminals and what motivates them. It shows the human side of the other victims of crime; those left behind to carry on and try to make sense of random, unspeakable violence. I came away from reading this book full of admiration for the author and what he has been able to accomplish with his life.