When a fam­ily is mur­dered

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY ANNA THERESA CAS­CIO The writer grew up in Vi­enna.

Aquiet street. A home in­va­sion. Ar­son. A fam­ily ter­ror­ized. Four peo­ple killed, in­clud­ing a child. This isn’t about the har­row­ing “Man­sion Mur­ders” in North­west Washington. This is about a quadru­ple homi­cide that took place two hours south in Peters­burg, Va., on April 19, 2014. This is not about a wealthy white fam­ily and their house­keeper. This is about four gen­er­a­tions of a black fam­ily: Pauline Wilkins, 67; her daugh­ter, Vicki Chavis-An­sar, 46; her grand­daugh­ter, Tanique “Missy” Chavis, 22; and her great-grand­son, Del­vari Chavis, 2. This is about my friend Vicki and her fam­ily, whose vi­o­lent deaths went largely ig­nored by the media.

Vicki worked as a med­i­cal tech­ni­cian and aide at an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity in North­ern Vir­ginia. Wemet when my broth­ers and I moved our mother into the “Four Sea­sons with Bingo,” as I called it. Mom had suf­fered a fall, re­sult­ing in a trau­matic brain in­jury that left her men­tally and phys­i­cally in­ca­pac­i­tated.

I didn’t want to leave her alone. I was ter­ri­fied for her safety and emo­tional well-be­ing. But Vicki, as­signed to shep­herd Mom through her inau­gu­ral night, re­as­sured me, hugged me and firmly herded me out.

For the next five years, I spent more time with Vicki than withmy friends. She helped us make peace withmy mother’s in­creas­ing de­men­tia, re­count­ing spir­ited con­ver­sa­tions Momhad with our long-dead fa­ther.

My mother lit up when Vicki’s daugh­ter and grand­child vis­ited. Vicki let her hold lit­tle Del­vari. While Vicki’s af­fec­tion for her pa­tients was ex­quis­ite, her love for her daugh­ter and grand­son was fierce. She was des­per­ate to pro­tect them, afraid Missy’s lack of re­sources would cat­a­pult her and the baby from North­ern Vir­ginia to Peters­burg, where Vicki’s mother and sib­lings lived.

Peters­burg, near Rich­mond, has an­te­bel­lum homes at its cen­ter and crime-dazed neigh­bor­hoods fes­ter­ing at its edges. A city that is largely black, with a me­dian per-house­hold in­come of about $30,000, the crime rate hov­ered high above the na­tional av­er­age a few years ago.

When Vicki’s al­ready ten­u­ous fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion crum­bled, she moved her daugh­ter and grand­son to Peters­burg. A few months later, they were all killed.

Vicki and her mother suc­cumbed to stab wounds be­fore the fire; Missy and her lit­tle boy per­ished from “ther­mal and in­hala­tion in­juries” dur­ing the blaze. Alexan­der R. Hill Jr., the sus­pect, was look­ing for Vicki’s sis­ter, Vi­vian, with whom he had a re­la­tion­ship. Days ear­lier, Vicki had ac­com­pa­nied Vi­vian to pro­cure a re­strain­ing or­der against him. Vi­vian re­ported that he had threat­ened to kill her and her fam­ily on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions. Vi­vian wasn’t home that night. Hill es­caped. The po­lice named him a per­son of in­ter­est. I ex­pected the heinous killing of four peo­ple to sat­u­rate the news. I waited for an intrepid man­hunt, a plea for the na­tion’s co­op­er­a­tion, mawk­ish de­pic­tions of the vic­tims. I as­sumed the crime would garner at­ten­tion in the Dis­trict, so close to where, for eight years, Vicki had cared for so many peo­ple’s par­ents. The Post had noth­ing, nor did any of the on-air or online news out­lets.

Over the next sev­eral months there was an oc­ca­sional wisp of in­for­ma­tion, al­most solely in the Rich­mond area: Hill was spot­ted in North Carolina; the com­mu­nity raised re­ward money; Vicki’s mother’s home was de­mol­ished.

In April, a year af­ter Vicki’s death, the FBI el­e­vated Hill’s sta­tus to mur­der sus­pect. A year later, he was cap­tured in New York.

Although I spent the past year ap­palled by the ap­a­thy to­ward Vicki and her fam­ily, I wasn’t pre­pared for the out­rage I ex­pe­ri­enced when na­tional news sta­tions from CNN to Fox News to MSNBC roared about the killings of ex­ec­u­tive Sav­vas Savopou­los; his wife, Amy; their son, Philip; and their house­keeper, Ver­ali­cia Figueroa. The hunt for a per­son sus­pected in their deaths, Daron Dy­lon Wint, echoed through­out the United States, and his photo was ubiq­ui­tous. He was ap­pre­hended one week af­ter the killings.

Prom­i­nent news­pa­pers car­ried head­lines about pizza and DNA. We learned that the par­ents adored each other and were de­voted to their chil­dren. They hero­ically pre­vented another house­keeper from walk­ing into the trap their home had be­come. Re­ports spec­u­lat­ing about what hap­pened be­fore the fire en­snared our at­ten­tion. The na­tional media sketched time­lines, nailed scoops and touted in­ter­views with the house­keeper’s wi­d­ower and with neigh­bors. The Post pub­lished a col­umn head­lined “Cu­rios­ity gets the best of us when tragedy be­falls the rich.”

Vicki and her fam­ily were poor. They died luridly. No one was riv­eted. No one spec­u­lated pub­licly why Hill may have stabbed Vicki and her mother while Missy and her baby were still alive when the fire started. No one breath­lessly won­dered where Hill might have been.

I don’t think it’s be­cause no one cares. I think it’s be­cause no one was given the chance to know them and their story. Now you know about Vicki Chavis-An­sar and her loved ones.

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