PEQUOT LAKES - As much as Sid and Linda Walker want people to remember the life of their daughter, Dru Sjodin, they also don't want the memory of her death to fade.
Dru, 22, was abducted Nov. 22, 2003, and later killed by Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a sex offender from Crookston, who in 2006 was sentenced to death for the crime.
The Walkers want Dru's plight to serve as a reminder of the person Dru was. They also fight to make sure her fate isn't repeated.
"We don't force it on people, but we like to talk about Dru as much as possible so people don't forget because all good things you heard, read and saw about Dru were real," said Sid Walker, Dru's stepfather. "Dru lived with me since she was 5 years old. I don't look on her as a stepdaughter. She was my daughter. Nobody is perfect, but Dru was about as close as you could get."
For Linda and Sid Walker, mother and stepfather of Dru Sjodin, nothing has stopped the "unending sorrow" of losing Dru at the hands of Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. in 2003. In the years since Dru's death, the two have become advocates for stronger laws to protect children from predators.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"It's an important aspect of remembering Dru so that people, we as society, don't feel that it can't happen again to them, to keep awareness," said Dru's mother, Linda Walker. "Anybody taken in such a heinous way deserves to be remembered and never forgotten. That's the least of what humanity could give back to victims, I believe, no matter who they are or how taken."
To that end, Linda Walker has been a crusader. She's appeared before the Legislature and Congress to have laws passed to protect children. Her efforts, and the efforts of numerous families of victims, have led to passage of Dru's Law, which requires convicted child molesters to be listed on a national Internet database and face a felony charge for failing to update their whereabouts.
She's also joined with the parents of other victims to form the Surviving Parents Coalition. The group continues to work on getting laws passed to protect children.
Linda Walker said working with the other parents has been therapeutic because they understand what each has gone through.
"It's ironic, but my physician keeps saying, Linda, have you gone to a counselor?' And I keep telling him, I'd have to find a counselor who's lived what I lived through," Linda Walker said. "I know these parents get it and we understand each other."
Speaking about their daughter Dru Sjodin allows Sid and Linda Walker to let others know about the life of Dru and the events that led to her abduction and murder. Linda said she does so, not to have people live in fear, but to help provide awareness. "We all have to be part of the solution," she said.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Sid Walker has had battles of his own. Shortly after Dru was abducted he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It wasn't until a few months ago that he received a clean bill of health. Linda Walker slowed her speaking engagements while Sid was ill. Now she intends to pick up where she left off.
"Now she doesn't have to worry," Sid Walker said. "She shouldn't have worried about me in the first place but now things are getting better."
Dru's murder also was hard on the Walkers' extended family. Sid Walker's mother died less than a year after Dru's funeral. Despite being physically healthy, Sid Walker said Dru's death took its toll on his mother mentally.
"She came to me and said, I'm not going to live much longer,'" Sid Walker recalled. "She said, I go to sleep at night and wake up right away and all that's on my mind is Dru. I can't get her off my mind. I'm getting so tired I just can't make it.'"
Last year, Linda Walker lost her father, after whom Dru was named, on what would have been Dru's 26th birthday.
"I guess she decided she needed my dad with her," Linda Walker said.
Still, support from the Pequot Lakes and Grand Forks, N.D., communities has been outstanding, the Walkers said. More than a dozen neighbors once helped out with yardwork while Sid was fighting cancer.
Also, Dru's plight has brought Sid Walker's family closer to Linda Walker, he said. It also helped Sid understand Linda better.
"I was trying to be a doctor for Linda and she finally told me that I need to give her space and back off," Sid Walker said. "I'm glad she did."
"That's the difficult part for people from outside to understand that," Linda Walker said. "I don't expect them to know it but some days you don't know where it comes from or why, you just need that space, that time, that moment."
Nov. 22 is one of those days - the fifth anniversary of Dru's abduction and murder. As it is with Dru's father, Allan Sjodin, that date for the Walkers' is anything but an anniversary. Anniversaries, they said, are about celebration.
"It becomes very foreboding knowing the days are coming closer and closer," Linda Walker said in an interview late last month. "I think of those last times and last moments with Dru. You can't ever avoid thinking about it."
Added Sid Walker: "That and Dru's birthday. Those are the two days that, no matter how hard you try, always have a dark cloud hanging over them."
The Walkers always thought that if anything would have happened to Dru, it would have been in a vehicle accident on her trips between Pequot Lakes and Grand Forks, N.D. That she was murdered was beyond comprehension.
"There's no human being that can wrap their head around such senselessness," Linda Walker said. "To think there's such evil that exists within our world. I don't mean to say there isn't beauty, there is. And Dru certainly was that shining beauty, just as a human being."
And that leads the Walkers to remembering the good of Dru's life. Her work on the Clothesline Project, which brings attention to violence against women and children, at the University of North Dakota the week she was abducted; her love of art; her pursuit of a career in photojournalism; her volunteering for any cause; and how she went out of her way to do thoughtful things for others.
"She was always impacting something," Linda Walker said. "She always was giving back to life probably more than she was taking."
"We want people to remember her, like we did the day after she was murdered, as what a good person Dru was," Sid Walker said. "At that time, the only people who knew that were people who were close. It wasn't very long until thousands of people knew that. Ten years from now I'd like people to feel about her the same way they do now. She was just a good person."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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