Crystal is more
than a victim.
She is precious to us -
a missing member of our family
who we love so dearly
and miss each and every day.
...Crystal loved kettle corn,
Diet Coke and Red Vines...
Hearts broken, lives changed,
a family goes on with love
The News Tribune
Saturday, May 10, 2003
Every morning before dawn, Patty Judson slips into her granddaughter's bedroom while she sleeps. She knows what will happen when 8-year-old Haley Brame wakes up.
"Grandma!" the girl shouts.
"I'm here," Judson answers, instantly.
Haley and her little brother, David, take their baths and get ready for the day while Patty's husband, Lane, makes breakfast in the kitchen of the family's Gig Harbor home.
"Papa, I'm handsome and I'm ready for crepes!" 5-year-old David Brame Jr. shouts before running downstairs.
It's a morning ritual that the grandparents cherish, smiles lighting their eyes as they describe their affectionate, wriggly grandchildren.
But it's a routine that never should have started.
The Judsons' daughter, Crystal, should be the one waking the children, giving them baths, fixing their breakfasts. She's the one who loved to paint Haley's toenails and take her to school. She took David out for "dates" over hot chocolate.
Crystal Brame should be the one holding her children when they cry. But today, when their mother is buried, Haley and David will turn again to their grandparents.
On April 26, Crystal's husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, shot her in a Gig Harbor parking lot as the children sat in their father's car close by. Then he shot and killed himself. Crystal died a week later in Harborview Medical Center.
David Brame did more than leave his two children parentless. He shattered the hearts of the tight-knit Judson family, whose closest friends are each other: Patty and Lane, who raised their daughters in South Tacoma; Crystal's sister, Julie; and Julie's husband, David Ahrens.
Today, two weeks after the shootings that changed their lives, a week after Crystal's death and on the day of her funeral, Lane and Patty Judson want people to remember the Crystal they knew: the industrious chatterbox who lavished love on her family and was devoted to her children.
They want the community to know how Haley and David are doing. They know people are worried about the children. Earlier this week, they allowed just one reporter into the family's quiet, contained world to talk about Crystal and her children.
"I think they're going to be fine, because they're surrounded by love," David Ahrens said.
Growing up on Junett Street
The family's close friendship was forged in the South Tacoma home where Lane and Patty Judson raised their two daughters. The Judsons can't help but smile when they think about Crystal and their life on Junett Street.
Lane Judson, now a lithe, retired Boeing engineer, and tiny Patty lived in the same home for 42 years. They named Crystal, born April 24, 1968, for Lane's sister, and Julie, born in 1970, for Julie Eisenhower.
Crystal started ice skating when she was 3, eventually getting up at 5 a.m. several times a week to go to before-school lessons at the Lakewood Winter Club, back when the club had its own rink.
Julie started skating when she was 5, and Patty became the chauffeur, driving the girls before going to her job as a receptionist at Traveler's Insurance.
Crystal had natural talent. When she was 10 or 11, she went to a regional competition where she triumphed over a little girl who went on to skate at the 1994 Winter Olympics: Tonya Harding.
Crystal and Julie weren't just sisters, they were best friends.
"We'd get in little fights, but nothing serious," Julie said. "I'd hear about other friends who would get in actual fistfights with their sisters, and I thought, no way."
"They never, never hung up the phone without telling each other they loved each other," Patty said of her daughters.
With all their activities, the girls didn't have time for many friends outside of school.
"They'd go to school, and then it was back on the ice again," Lane said.
"Then it was homework, and they'd fall back into bed," Patty said.
The pattern went on for years, even after the girls quit skating and Crystal became enamored with ballet.
Patty said she didn't understand when people complained about their teenagers.
"My girls are so tired, they don't have time for mischief," she said.
Not much, anyway. Julie remembers that as little girls, she and Crystal would get up in the middle of the night to plan elaborate Barbie dinner parties, giggling endlessly and trying to be quiet so they wouldn't be caught.
Or they'd make crank calls - asking people questions like, "Do you have dried onions? Then water them!" - until one time, a telephone operator called back and asked for their parents. They passed the phone along, never guessing the operator was ratting them out.
In later years, Crystal worked at a local Baskin-Robbins, where, because she was smallest, her co-workers would lower her into the ice cream freezer by her ankles so she could scrub the inside.
Julie and Crystal roomed together at the University of Washington, living in enormous McMahon Hall. Crystal majored in criminal justice. Julie started out in that field, too, but later majored in sociology.
The father had often told them, "There's always sick people and there's always criminals. You'll always have a job."
In her senior year, Crystal did an internship at the Tacoma Police Department, working Fridays and sometimes weekends. That's how she met David Brame, the family said.
They don't want to talk about him and his awful, confusing role in their lives. In hours of conversation, his name never came up in family stories.
"It was just a terrible, terrible thing that went on for years," is all Patty Judson would say about a married life her daughter said was filled with abuse. "It went on too long."
When she was with Brame, Crystal looked aged, haggard, her eyes darkened, Patty said. She filed for divorce Feb. 24, moving herself and the children into her parents' Canterwood home.
Suddenly, Patty said, "She was back to her old self. ... She looked like she did in college."
In her adult life, Crystal was a whirlwind who burst through doors, talking almost before she came into the room.
"She'd just fly through the door," Patty said. When it came time to leave, she'd call to her father: "Dad, give me hugs, I've got to go!"
Crystal loved kettle corn, Diet Coke and Red Vines.
"Give her those things, and she'd go 200 miles," Patty said.
Crystal would call her sister and her parents several times a day to ask if they wanted her to get them some kettle corn, or just to say she loved them. She still went by her childhood nickname, Chrissy-Boo, and signed notes "Boo" with the two O's made into eyes above a smile.
"She'd say, 'Oh, I've got to get going, it's 10 p.m. and I've got to get 60 treat bags ready for the kids,'" Julie Ahrens said, recalling how Crystal tried to be a perfect room mother for Haley's classes and David's preschool.
She baked and decorated elaborate cakes, spending hours to make them look like Dalmatians, Thomas the Train or Peter Pan.
At Christmas, she put trees in each child's room, the living room and the family room, all four decorated perfectly. She got the habit from her mother, who puts up six trees.
Recently Crystal got into making table decorations. For one family event, she created perfect bumblebees of peanut butter, chocolate and almonds.
For Julie's 25th birthday, she made a photo album that was all about Crystal and Julie together.
"When Crystal thanked you for something, it wasn't just once," Patty said. "She'd call, and then she'd send you a note, and then she'd call again.
"I'm going to miss her on the phone, because she'd call all the time. I'm going to miss that little chatterbox."
Crystal was unfailingly generous, one time spending hours to help a deaf family at the airport because she'd learned sign language in high school.
"You can see her in Haley," Julie said.
Haley once told Patty: "My mommy said always to be nice to people, and I always will, Grandma."
Haley back in school
Haley is a determined but dainty little girl. Her hair in a perfect bun, she introduces herself with a firm handshake.
She went back to school at Discovery Elementary early last week because she wanted to see her friends and resume her schoolwork. Her teacher assigned the class spelling words that included "heart," "love," "hugs," "friendship" and "miss."
Patty and Lane asked her, "What are you going to do on your first day back?"
"I'm just going to have a normal day," she told them.
Haley loves to hear stories about when her mom and Aunt Julie were little, about the time her mom pretended she was going to throw a forkful of rice at her sister, and then laughed so hard she lost hold of the fork and threw the rice after all.
Or about the time Papa taught little Crystal and Julie to hang up their coats and put away their lunch boxes by making them do it over and over again until even Papa, a former Navy chief and reservist, tired of the exercise.
David is a fast little boy who can run the feet off his grandparents. He adores dinosaurs, crocodiles and his grandfather's hot rods. And he's as loving as his mother.
"He says, 'I just want to smooch you up,' so we call him Smoochie," Patty said.
Haley likes to surprise her grandfather every morning, so he calls her Little Boo.
"We love them so much," Patty said. At their ages - Patty is 63, Lane 67 - they're nervous about becoming parents again but joyful in the task.
"We're going to have to be 35 again," they tell each other over and over.
Haley and David have been seeing a psychologist since their parents separated, and their doctors were waiting for them at home the night Crystal died. The doctors and a chaplain told the family not to hide anything from the children and answer their questions as best they can.
"We've gotten some really good questions from them," Patty said. "The other night, (David) cried so hard. I said, 'What is wrong?' and he said, 'I just want to kiss my mom.'"
You can, Patty said, and David looked at her wonderingly.
"Just blow her a kiss, up to heaven," she said.
"He did. And he said, 'Grandma, she caught it!' So we do that every night."
Stories of Pecos Pete
Each night, Lane regales his grandchildren with another story about Pecos Pete, a larger-than-life prospector who has tangled with crocodiles, eagles and other tough characters since Crystal and Julie were girls. Each night ends with a cliffhanger.
"Then, do you know what happens next?" Lane asks his spellbound audience. "No!" the children cry. "Well, I don't know either. We'll find out tomorrow night."
The wails of dismay are loud enough for Patty, downstairs in the kitchen, to hear.
The Judsons live in a big, two-story house, with vaulted ceilings and enormous windows looking onto a back yard where deer munch on the flowers. Upstairs are bedrooms for both children.
In a third bedroom, used as a study, legal papers from Crystal's divorce are still spread out on an ottoman where she was working on them in the days before she died.
In the upstairs hallway, a long line of gift bags are full of presents Crystal received on her 35th birthday, two days before she was shot. Hidden in another closet are the Christmas presents she'd already bought.
The Judsons moved to the upscale, gated Canterwood neighborhood a year and a half ago to be closer to Crystal and Julie and have never regretted it.
People told them the neighbors would be snooty, but those neighbors keep sneaking over, doing the Judsons' yard work while they're busy with Haley and David. Thursday, Patty Judson stepped outside to find four neighbors on their knees, quietly weeding.
"It's the best thing we ever did," Patty Judson said of the move to Gig Harbor. "We love it here. It's so peaceful."
They feel bad, though, that they haven't been able to thank everyone who has helped them in the past two weeks. They apologize. Over and over.
For a week, the Judsons slept on mattresses in conference rooms at Harborview, staying close to Crystal. For a week, it almost seemed that she would pull through, that she would awaken, that she would get off the life-support machines and hug her children again.
It was the most miserable week any of them can imagine. David and Haley stayed nearby, but they didn't ever see their mother in her scary hospital bed.
The family barely had time to think, let alone worry about eating and sleeping. But all their needs were taken care of. They'd like to thank the people who took care of them: the Pierce County sheriff's deputies and chaplains, the Seattle police officers, and the law enforcement officers and paramedics from throughout the region.
Pierce County deputy Todd Donato stayed by their side throughout that long, awful Saturday. Seattle police officer John Abraham made sure they had beds and brought them food. Chaplain Alvie Robbins helped them cope.
Family friends Rosslyn and Steve Stookey stayed with them and played with Haley and David all week long. Strangers sent plants, bouquets, teddy bears. A woman sent a doll and bubbles for the children, apologizing on the card for her handwriting because she was visually impaired.
"A total stranger, and she has problems of her own, and she's worried about my sister," Julie said, tears in her eyes.
"Flowers started coming, cards started coming," Lane said. "It was incredible, the amount of love and outpouring that came up to Harborview. There was no way we were going to be able to thank everybody."
When they came home, the family saw "We love you Crystal" signs posted around Gig Harbor. They have one in their living room.
"I'd sure like to know who did that," Patty said. "I'd really like to thank that person."
And outside, alone with each other, Haley and David played like any two kids.