“I gave it to God instead of making myself sick about it,” she said.
And it’s worked. In less than two years, most of the men involved have been located and arrested, with one already convicted and sentenced. Details of the case are being kept confidential as Federal Bureau of Investigation officials build an evidence trail strong enough to convict the rest of them.
Every day of court, of trials, of sentencing, Rosalie is there watching the process of justice deal with Robert’s killers. She never goes alone as the Border Patrol makes sure someone from the agency is always sitting with her for moral support.
Her experiences in the courtroom have given her a special insight and ability to help other grieving spouses going through the same emotions, and she makes a point of helping by accompanying them to the sentencings.
But Robert’s memory is not engulfed or obscured by the cases involving his killers. Instead, Rosalie purposely focuses on his vibrant and unforgettable life.
Their home is filled with beautifully framed photographs of Robert. Their wedding picture occupies one wall. Robert laughing with the kids is on another. One photo of a handsome and proud Robert wearing his green Border Patrol uniform is hung directly in front of the bottom of the stairs just so the kids can spot it as they come down each morning.
It’s Rosalie’s attempt to keep his memory alive for Matthew and Kayla. And it is comforting to her to keep things as close to the way they were two years ago, before that fateful knock on the door.
A large picture frame, bought several months before Robert’s death, is hung in a prominent place in their living room. Filled with photos of them smiling as children, and then as a couple dating, and finally, married with their own kids, the frame is graced with the words: Live, Laugh, Love. “It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.”
Rosalie is amazed at the prophetic message, but didn’t notice it until a clergyman pointed it out to her. She is comforted by the fact that Robert lived his life to the fullest during his short 30 years.
“We decorated this house together,” she said, looking around. “I just can’t leave. I still feel a big part of him here.”
Even his closet with all his uniforms and dirty clothes hamper remains the same, she confessed. Just the smell of him can bring comfort to her when she is feeling overwhelmed. And the privacy of their bedroom is the one place she can let down and grieve.
The first months were heart-wrenching, she said, as life continued on all around her just as it had before he was killed. Every night at 2 a.m., she listened for the train that routinely went by their house and would roll over to see if he was home yet. The sound of the garage door opening in the early morning hours used to alert her that he had just pulled in from the end of his shift. But now the empty bed and hollow silence of the garage jolts her from a deep sleep and triggers the ache of realization he will never come home again.
A year before his death, Robert purchased an off-road quad, something he’d always wanted. Taking the video camera with them, the family headed to the desert and Rosalie recorded him, laughing, full of life, as he sped around the sand dunes. The last video she has is one of all of them swimming, splashing and laughing at a local pool the weekend before he was murdered. That footage is what she sent to the America’s Most Wanted television show as they searched for Robert’s killers.
The memories are cherished by her as they watch the videos together, Robert’s giddiness and love for his kids so apparent—there for them to remember forever.
When the reality of his death kicked in, Rosalie panicked and worried about supporting their family. Certainly, going back to nursing was the best option, and she knew she’d have to work several jobs to remain in the home they both loved so much.
But then money began trickling in. Letter by letter. Note by note. All were filled with change, dollar bills and sweet condolences from strangers from all over the world who were touched by the tiny faces of Robert’s children. The amount was enough that they could live off of it for six months until she received his death benefit from the agency, she said.
In December, she and the kids attended a police academy graduation at Palomar College. Organizers sat them in the front row, and as each cadet crossed the stage for the diploma, they passed by her and laid a single pink rose in her lap commemorating Robert. When they finished, her lap was filled with 40 delicate roses. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, they presented her with a check for thousands of dollars fundraised by the cadets themselves, along with a matching sum from an anonymous donor.
Tears filled her eyes while recounting her shock and gratefulness for the way she and her children have been taken care of. On her first Mother’s Day alone, she received flowers, she said. And on her birthday, she receives bouquets of flowers purchased by her husband’s fellow agents – just the way Robert used to do for her.
The kids are remembered too. She smiled while remembering their excitement when a group of agents and their families descended upon their home to donate and install a swing set and playhouse for Kayla and Matthew as their birthday gifts on behalf of the station and agents..
“The kids will always love and remember what the Border Patrol agents have done for them,” she said.