MOUNT VERNON — Every year for the past nine years, Susie Chrisman of Bladensburg has received a special quilt that keeps the memory of her son, Jarrod Chrisman of Mount Vernon, front and center in the minds of friends and family members — along with nine other young people from other parts of the country who are also displayed on the quilt.
Jarrod Chrisman, who struggled with epilepsy, and at 23 had just qualified for disability payments, was murdered on May 6, 2003 inside his apartment at 1100 Coshocton Ave in Mount Vernon. He was slain by a downstairs neighbor, Andrew McManis, then 46, who came upstairs and fired one shot from a .38-caliber handgun that hit Chrisman in the chest. McManis received a sentence of 18 years and is currently incarcerated at Mansfield Correctional Institute, Chrisman said.
She emphasized that McManis has never shown remorse for the emotional pain and loss of a loved one inflicted on her family. The two had been friends at one time but had quarreled over alleged wrongdoing that Chrisman had informed police about.
Jarrod was one of three children of Rodney and Susie Chrisman. He would be 39 years old today if he had lived and looking forward to his 40th birthday as well as so many other family get-togethers, including birthdays and holidays of others.
To cope with her loss, Susie joined Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) nine years ago, which holds annual conferences each year with another coming up Aug. 8-11 in Denver. Last year’s conference was in Washington, D.C.
If there’s one silver lining that has come from being a member of a group no one would ever want to join if given a choice, Chrisman said that once a parent becomes a member, they receive so much empathy, friendship and caring from other parents that it becomes a group one cannot do without.
Chrisman became especially close with a group of other parents when she joined POMC nine years ago that resulted in a special project they all share that has a powerful cathartic effect on each of them. It is a red blanket known as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Quilt, and has embedded in it photo images of slain POMC members’ children, though not all on the quilt were murder victims. Most were.
One victim, Ada Johnson of Florida, was 29 when she was murdered, and her brother, Bobby Johnson, later committed suicide in part due to the devastating impact of losing his sister, Susie Chrisman said. Their mother, Martha Johnson of Tallahasse, Florida, has become a good friend.
So has the one who created the quilt, Barb Prevort of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Her son, John Goddard, was just 22, almost Jarrod’s age, when he was murdered. The second person ever to receive the quilt after Barb made it was Martha Johnson, and then other parents including Susie were added on as the group grew in number.
The way it works is that each member mails the quilt to the next member about the time of the anniversary of the loss of their slain child. Since Susie’s son was killed in early May, she received the quilt in late April. She will have it until about May 7 and will then mail it on to the next parent.
“I wrap it around me every day,” Chrisman said. “I feel close to Jarrod that way.”
POMC is a national organization with thousands of members, said Chrisman, who works at Kroger in Mount Vernon as a cashier on occasion but now spends more time traveling for Kroger to promote a credit card offering. She lost about 100 pounds when her son died, she said, because the pain from the loss suffered by her family was simply too much to bear. Her husband, Rodney, had to retire about 10 years ago as a manager of a small dairy plant because the loss of his son had constantly worn on him, Susie said.
Susie said the best thing about the traveling quilt, besides the camaraderie it brings among the POMC parents who receive it, is knowing that the spirit of each slain or fallen child is watching over their moms and dads, extending their love to them. They refer to the spirits of their children as angels and the time each parent gets with the quilt as their “Angel-versary.” The quilt reminds each parent of the good qualities that each of their children possessed.
For example, Susie said her son, despite his epilepsy that included grand mal seizures, bravely worked for a pizza business off and on, until he could no longer work and qualified for disability. He had a fiancee who had a 2-year-old son he was close to before his death. He also has a daughter who survives, as well as a sister and a brother and their children.
“Jarrod loved kids from the time he was a small child to his death; when he was small and we were at restaurants he would see other kids being seated with their parents, smile and say ‘Look, look!’” she said.
Susie keeps a calendar record of all the family events — birthdays, holidays — that she has missed because Jarrod was taken from her family much too early in life. The first one missed was Mother’s Day 2003; it was May 11 that year, just five days after his murder.
She also said the timing of her son’s death meant that he missed the birth of his younger sister Janelle’s daughter, Chloe, who will turn 16 in June. But he did get to meet his older brother Jason’s daughter, Chelsea, who is now 16.
Susie described her son as happy-go-lucky and wanting to make others smile. His murder occurred shortly before his sister’s 21st birthday. “He wanted to surprise her by getting some clowns to come over,” Susie said. “I told him it would be too expensive. I remember all of those things.”
She also knows that the first parole eligibility for McManis is scheduled for March 2021. She dreads the approaching date but said she will testify as to every future joy he took from their family in hope that her son’s murderer remains behind bars. The family believes, she added, that 18 years was much too lenient a sentence, though mandated by law, for such as senseless taking of a life.
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