Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Mom dreads loss of second child

Son to be sentenced today in shooting death of his sister

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kelly Wright hopes the man who killed her daughter does as littleprison time as possible.

One of the few ways the Morrow mother of nine has coped with the fatal shooting of her 17-year-old daughter since November is to focus on her killer.

That man, that killer, is her son.

Kelly Wright, of Morrow, after visiting with her son, Sean Wright, 19, who now is incarcerated at the Hamilton County Justice Center.
(Gary Landers photo)
Kelly Wright will be at the sentencing today of her son, Sean Wright, 19, who was convicted of reckless homicide in the Nov. 15 death of Nicole Wright at a Northside home.

Common Pleas Court Judge Ethna Cooper can send Sean to prison for up to eight years, but Wright said she hopes the judge will sentence him to the minimum prison stay of between three and four years.

Wright is convinced that the shooting was a tragic accident. She knows her son - just 15 months older than Nicole and her best friend and confidant - never would have purposely aimed a loaded 12-gauge shotgun at his baby sister and pulled the trigger. She knows too, and fears more, that her son might kill himself.

"I thought, 'Oh my God, we lost Nicole, I can't lose Sean too,' " Wright said recently. "Sean would never hurt one of his brothers or sisters. I knew he was devastated."

Nicole Wright was one of 75 homicide victims last year in Cincinnati. Her mother, though, is the only parent to both victim and killer.

And that, experts said, is a different type of grief and loss.

"This is a lot worse than just losing a child," said Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist and chairman emeritus of the Dart Center for journalism and trauma. "There is not a ritual of support in times like this."

People don't know what to say to a mother who is the parent of the victim and the killer, said Barbara Bierman, a member of the Kansas City chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, a support group with chapters nationwide.

Bierman's 20-year-old daughter, Shari, was convicted and sentenced to spend 15 years in prison for killing her 17-year-old sister, Syndi, in 1989.

"No matter what, they were both our daughters," Bierman said. "It's been a double-edged sword. You deal with the situation the best you can.

"They feel like they need to support their son. It's terribly hard to grieve for one child and at the same time for another because you know he's hurting too."

It's normal to focus on the child who is alive, Ochberg said:

"He needs his mother more than ever."

A fateful mistake

A big family was important to Kelly Wright and her husband, Ralph Wright.

They raised their nine children in Northside at 1411 Chase Ave. In 2001, the Wrights moved to Morrow when the neighborhood began changing and they began fearing for their children's safety, she said.

Wright's oldest daughter, Laura, stayed behind with her grandmother, who died in 2003. Fearing for his older sister's safety, Sean moved back to the home shortly thereafter.

Although they lived 50 minutes apart, Wright said she saw Laura and Sean almost every day, usually on her way home from Summit Behavioral Health Center, where she works as a psychiatric nurse.

Last November, Sean told his mother he had bought a gun for protection.

She objected, but Sean assured her that nothing would happen, she said.

Wright took gun safety seriously; her father, a retired Cincinnati Police officer, taught his family to respect guns and never to play with them.

But Nov. 15, Sean brought it out, he said, in an effort to scare Nicole.

While Nicole visited her brother and sister at the Chase Avenue home, Sean spotted his younger sister outside talking to a suspected drug dealer. When Sean confronted her about it, she threatened to kill herself.

Nicole's suicide threats were not uncommon; she had taken anti-depressants in the past, Wright said.

Tired of hearing what he considered empty threats, Sean decided to teach Nicole a lesson, his attorney, Peter Rosenwald said during the trial.

Sean went upstairs, grabbed the shotgun out of his closet and emptied it of seven shells.

The safety was off, but Sean says he went back downstairs believing that the gun was empty.

He tried to hand it to Nicole, but she wouldn't take it.

"He said if you want to kill yourself - go ahead," Laura Wright recalled him telling their younger sister. "She said no, she would just take pills."

Laura, who was at the home and sitting nearby, said she knew Sean meant no harm. It never crossed her mind that Sean would fire the gun.

She recalled her brother, with the shotgun dangling from his right hand, asking their sister: "Do you want me to do it?"

And, then, Sean pulled the trigger - firing a round that he has said he didn't realize was in the shotgun's chamber. Nicole, bleeding from a wound to her chest, died within minutes on the living room couch.

Her last words to her brother: "I love you."

'I didn't mean it'

Sean's next words were to a 911 operator.

"Please, please, please hurry up," he frantically pleaded. "Hey I need you to hurry up, she's got a hole in her chest. I'm telling you, you don't understand she's dying. My sister is dying.

"I didn't mean it, I was playing."

After taking down the home's address, the operator asked Sean about the gun.

"It's sittin' on the floor," he said. "I, I, I, I ... I don't have no bullets for it, I didn't think it had bullets in it."

As they talked, Cincinnati paramedics roared up.

"Is she dead?" Sean can be heard on the 911 tape asking the paramedics. "Oh my God, I will kill myself, I swear to God."

And when the phone rang at Wright's home from a family member who told her that her son had shot her daughter, she worried about both her children.

She and her husband found out their daughter died shortly after they arrived at University Hospital that night. After making the 911 call, Sean ran away, and police were looking for him.

There was little time, Kelly Wright said, to grieve her daughter's death. She had to focus on keeping her son alive.

Hours later, Wright and her husband left the hospital and waited for word of Sean. Wright's phone rang again. Sean was calling from jail.

"He was sobbing. He said: 'You know it was an accident,' " she said of the conversation.

Then, she said, he added: "'You know what I got to do. She was my heart. I can't go on knowing I killed my sister.' "

Wright comforted her son as best as she could, she said, promising that together they would get through this.

A funeral and a trial

At the same time she planned her daughter's funeral, she was consulting with a lawyer to help plan Sean's defense on murder charges.

She said the morning of Nicole's funeral was one of the toughest times since the death, her son's arrest and trial.

A judge granted a request that Sean attend Nicole's funeral. But instead of the family going together, a deputy took Sean alone before anyone else arrived.

His legs shackled, his wrists cuffed and connected to a waist belt, Sean wasn't permitted to see any of his family except to say goodbye to Nicole.

During the funeral, Wright said she wanted Sean where she could hug him and hold him. But she knew he had come and left and was back sitting in the Hamilton County jail.

In the months since, Wright said she has held tight to a comment made by Sean and Nicole's first-grade teacher, who attended the funeral.

"She said she remembered them," Wright said. "She said they adored each other. Sean was always the big brother. You don't have to tell me, I know he didn't mean to do this."

Nicole's room remains exactly as she left it when she left for school Nov. 14. Brochures from art school still arrive occasionally in the mail, addressed to Nicole - who was interested in studying art in college. Her mother said she continues to see Nicole almost everywhere she looks.

And Wright continues to visit Sean at the Hamilton County Justice Center three times a week. She sees him through bullet-resistant glass while speaking through a telephone.

She hopes Ohio prison officials will place Sean at a prison close to home.

She's worried about how he'll fare there. And, she admits, she's worried about what's in store for her after the sentencing.

"I focused so much on Sean," she said. "It was the only way I could deal with losing Nicole.

"Now that this is done, I know it will hit me,'' she added, "and I know it will be bad."



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