I thought I’d share this article. It was quite a surprise and very humbling. Alaska has been extremely supportive. Thank you Frontiersman & Amy Armstrong, the author.
They featured me as the FRONTIERSMAN PERSON OF THE YEAR
Frontiersman Person of the Year: Edie Grunwald
Grieving mother, tireless activist, political candidate, Palmer woman just wishes she could speak to her son one more time
By AMY ARMSTRONG Frontiersman.com, Dec 30, 2017, 4 min to read
PALMER — Today brings to a close a year that could rightfully be labeled as pure hell for Edie Grunwald. It’s also been a year of tremendous achievement for the Palmer woman, who has become an activist and chief voice in the fight against rising crime in Alaska, and late in the year, threw her hat in the ring as a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Of course, she’d trade away all that attention and acclaim back, just to be able to spend today listening to her son David enthusiastically tell her all of his plans for the year to come.
“He would constantly tell me his ideas and ask for feedback and we would have these long conversations planning things out,” Grunwald said. “He was full of ideas. He always had a plan he was working on or something he wanted to accomplish.”
On Nov. 13, 2016, those dreams came to a sudden and violent halt, as the then-16 year-old David was driving his girlfriend home and never returned. His body was found days later, after he was pistol-whipped, shot in the head and left in the remote area along the Knik River Road. Five fellow teens now stand accused in his murder.
Edie would prefer to still be another of the many moms finishing up the holiday season breathing a sigh of relief that all of its expectations and frolic were met. She’d rather be guiding her son toward what would have been his graduation from high school in May 2018, but for Edie, there are now different deadlines, different dates to circle on the calendar — those that involve court dates and elections.
She has gone from being “one of the moms” actively volunteering at the school after retiring from a decades-long, successful military career to being thrust into the state and national spotlight demanding justice for her murdered son.
Rather than hiding from the ugly reality of what happened to David, she has opted to engage that evil head-on by highlighting at public meetings and on social media the challenges and troubles that she and her husband, Ben, now experience in their dealings with the justice system. She does not shy away from stating David was murdered, but also carefully discusses any details so as not to jeopardize the potential conviction(s) of those currently accused.
Some observers say she has “embraced” her new role as a criminal justice activist and credit her for not backing away from something so unpleasant. Yet, in listening to her talk about the loss she and Ben endure without their youngest child and the reasons why she vigorously pursues awareness and justice, and why she is campaigning for Lt. Gov. of Alaska, it seems more accurate to describe her approach and mannerism in dealing with a scenario no one ever wants to face as a “backpack” she shoulders in public.
Inside, of course, is packed the never-ending appeal for David’s accused killer(s) to face the consequences. But as she’s travelled this unwanted journey, Edie has picked up other items for her backpack: An understanding that criminal activity is often driven by an insatiable, uncontrollable need for drugs; that alcohol and drug treatment programs often have more failure than success; a state budget process that she views as paralyzing economic activity and as an unfeeling witness to the excruciating process crime victims and their families endure.
She didn’t ask for all of this.
Edie wanted to spend the first five months of 2018 helping David get ready for either military service or technical college.
She didn’t ask for the status as a “limited public figure” – the legal term used by the courts and by journalists in reference to a person who voluntarily and prominently participates in a public controversy for the purpose of influencing its outcome whose life often becomes legitimate fodder for the headlines.
Yet, she is indeed more than a limited public figure. She is a celebrity – instantly and continuously as she keeps up a religious pace of attending public meetings across the state in an effort to raise awareness on behalf of her son, and in fixing the flaws she sees in the state’s current crime laws.
Her testimony at public meetings is expectedly laden with the emotion of a grieving mother, but also chock-full of pertinent facts, figures and statistics regarding the amount and nature of violence playing out in Alaska, and the impacts that current crime laws have regarding the effectiveness of law enforcement and rehabilitation of criminals.
When Edie speaks at public meetings, there is a lot of affirmative nodding by audience members who view her tears as a sign of resolve and back her quest for change.
In public, she is a strong warrior.
In private, her battle is overwhelming.
Her emotions regularly run the gamut from inconsolable anger that her son’s life was so senselessly ended to mind-bending frustration with the snail’s pace of the justice system to immense thankfulness for the endless calls, emails, hugs and letters she receives expressing support and sympathy as she and Ben continue to walk the path toward the day when their son’s killer(s) are sentenced.
Maybe sometime in 2018.
Maybe when the holidays roll around again in 2018, she will put up a tree.
She didn’t this year.
She just couldn’t.
She just couldn’t bear the thought of putting up a tree without David.
“He was always in the middle of that,” she said, trying unsuccessfully to keep her emotions under control. “That was always ‘his’ thing. I couldn’t do it without him.”
And she couldn’t bear the idea of a tree in she and Ben’s home that wouldn’t have presents for David underneath.
It simply was too much.
Too much pain in a house too crowded with memories she prays will someday bring more comfort and joy than pain.
David’s bedroom is just as it was the day he left.
Immediately after David’s death, she went there for solace.
Now, she avoids his room.
Cooking breakfast is also a lonely time.
Ben, who used to join David for breakfast every morning before school, now wakes up later. She doesn’t fault her husband. Instead, she said the two have pledged to get through this trial together.
“We are both completely committed to one another and we take action every day to take care of each other,” Edie said.
Yet, despite the closeness she and Ben closely guard, there is a loneliness that nothing can fill as she no longer hears David’s footsteps bounding down the staircase each morning as he calls out, “Mom, will you make me something?”
She stops again in our interview and asks through a cracking voice if she can have a moment or two. When she is ready to continue, Edie says with emphasis, “I would much rather have my son come bounding down the stairs in our house asking me to make him breakfast again than anything else,” Edie said. “I would give almost anything for that.”