After senseless killings of 2 UW alumnae, we can honor their memories

It was impossible not to like Mary Cooper, ’75, ’04. She always had an inviting smile and a calm, caring manner about her—a small miracle given that in her job, she had to deal with 300 elementary school kids.

Mary was the librarian at my children’s grade school—AE2 at Decatur, an alternative program in the Seattle public school system. When my daughter had reading problems, Mary was one of the many staff members who encouraged her to keep reading. It worked. Last June, Emily graduated cum laude from college with a double degree in biology and French. She is now a voracious reader in two languages.

Mary also taught my son about history. He was in second grade, crying to learn a computer game called “The Oregon Trail.” Students had to pack their virtual wagons for the long journey and then watch what happens as they make their way along the trail. Ted loved the game and perhaps his keen interest in history was first sparked by Mary’s touch at the keyboard.

Over the years, Mary Cooper touched the lives of thousands of children in so many ways. That’s why her senseless death on a trail in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest hurts so much. Mary and her daughter, Susanna Cooper Stodden, were brutally shot in the head while hiking to Pinnacle Lake last July. Police are still searching for the murderer.

For most of our lives, homicide is an abstraction. We read a mystery, watch a crime movie or hear about it on the news. But when it happens to someone you know in such a vicious and random way, it can never be abstract again.

To sociologist Joe Weis and criminal justice expert Bob Keppel, ’92, murder has never been an abstraction, even though both are professors who teach and do research on homicides. Weis’ grandfather died in a vehicular homicide. As an investigator, Keppel helped dig up the bones of many of Ted Bundy’s victims—and then interviewed the notorious serial killer many times, including taking down one of his last confessions.

Last summer, I was shocked by the vicious killing of two UW alumnae only weeks apart. In addition to Mary Cooper, the UW community lost Pamela Waechter, ’85, in the shootings at Seattle’s Jewish Federation offices. So I turned to these murder authorities and found that both are relatively sanguine about the murder rate in Seattle. The urban area continues to have one of the lowest homicide rates for a city of its size in the nation.

But those numbers are cold comfort to the friends and relatives of Mary Cooper, or to the loved ones of the 30 Seattle homicide victims last year. To dwell on the anger, however, would be to deny the legacies of Mary Cooper and Pamela Waechter, who had devoted their lives to community service and to education. Those are core values at their alma mater, too, and when we uphold chem, we do Mary and Pamela some small measure of justice. In trying to make the world a better place, we defeat those who want to make it worse.