Every mother’s worst fear became Sharon Rocha’s reality. On Christmas Eve 2002, she received a phone call from her son-in-law saying that her daughter, Laci, was missing. In the hours, days, and eventually months that followed, Sharon struggled to avoid accepting what no parent should ever have to face: the certain knowledge that her child is never coming home. In For Laci, for the first time, Sharon tells us what it was like to live through the long nightmare and opens our hearts to the Laci she loved: the kindergarten artist, the tenth grader who cried on her mother’s lap after her first breakup, the young woman who planned her wedding with joyful enthusiasm.
At the time of her disappearance, Laci was twenty-seven years old, seven and a half months pregnant, and a vibrant presence in the lives of everyone who knew her. How, Sharon wondered, could Laci so suddenly become a missing person? That very word missing seemed premature, somehow suspect. From that first moment, Sharon knew with a mother’s instinct that something—beyond the alarming news itself—was terribly wrong. As the world now knows, she was right. Nearly two years after that night, a jury in the State of California found Scott Peterson guilty of the murder of his wife and their unborn son, Conner.
Until now, the world has not had an answer to a question that held countless millions in its grip. Through all the relentless media coverage of this unspeakable crime and subsequent trial, we all wondered: What would it be like to experience such a horror involving your own child and grandchild? What, indeed, was Sharon Rocha feeling?
In For Laci, Sharon tells us. In so doing, she goes far beyond previous accounts to tell this story with unprecedented immediacy and intimacy. Here are her private conversations with the murderer, his mistress, Amber Frey, and the lead police investigators as they meticulously build their case, as well as surprising and heartbreaking revelations about the trial and its aftermath. Perhaps what is most affecting is the sense we get of the person Laci Peterson was, and what it feels like to lose—as Sharon put it in her Victim’s Impact Statement—“her beautiful smile, her contagious giggle, her happy heart, her love of life, her great expectations of becoming a mother, her generous soul, her knowing how much I love her, and my knowing how much she loves me.”
Inspired by a desire to help others who find themselves similarly afflicted, to detail how the love of family, friends, and community helped her survive her ordeal, and to convey how much was lost when her wonderful daughter was taken, Sharon Rocha has written a powerful and deeply moving memoir of loss and the love that always endures.
Also available as a Random House AudioBook and Large Print Edition
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Sharon Rocha now actively campaigns for victims’ rights. She helped with the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (aka Laci and Conner’s Law), which was signed by President Bush in 2004. She lives in California.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was spring 2005, and I heard a sound at home that had been absent for a long time—laughter.
Two of Laci’s longtime girlfriends, Stacey Boyers and Lori Ellsworth, were at my dining room table. Both were in their late twenties, the same age Laci would have been. They were dressed casually, they looked nice, and they radiated a youthful glow. I marveled at how much life they had in them. I pictured them as little girls at that table doing homework, snacking on cookies, and giggling at which boys liked which girls. Now they were reminiscing about Laci.
I gave Lori a cold beer, put a glass of Chardonnay in front of Stacey, and took one myself. Soon they were telling Laci stories that made them laugh, especially the latest one. Stacey started to describe what they’d done at the cemetery but abruptly cut herself off.
Seeming alarmed, she looked at Lori and, while trying not to laugh, asked, “Should I tell her what we said today?”
“Oh my God,” Lori said. “You can’t.”
I looked around the table. There were four chairs and three of us. If Laci were in that fourth chair, she’d be the one most eager to hear what was making them laugh. I said exactly what Laci would’ve said to Stacey: “Go ahead. Tell me.”
Stacey—whom I’ve known since she was eight—didn’t require much coaxing, and neither did Lori, once they got started.
“Lori and I went to visit Laci today,” Stacey said. “We were standing there, talking to her, like we always do, catching her up with all the gossip.
“Then we were quiet for a minute and I said to Lori, ‘I know what’s going on with her. I can hear Laci now, knocking on her neighbors’ caskets, saying, Hello! Anybody in there? Who’s there? I need to talk to somebody.’”
As she said this, Lori was turning red from embarrassment. She was probably thinking, Oh my gosh, how’s Sharon going to take this? Here’s what I did: I laughed. I couldn’t help it. It had been so long since I heard the sound of laughter at home. At one time, it had been common. Laci had a terrific sense of humor. She laughed a lot. Listening to Lori and Stacey, I was reminded of all the times the girls had sat around the table, talking and laughing.
“You know she’s down there talking nonstop,” Lori said, laughing. “She’s down there going, Hey, excuse me! Pardon me! We haven’t met. I’m Laci . . .
“I want to tell you about my little boy,” Stacey said in a Laci-like voice. “I want to tell you what I’m cooking today . . .”
Lori pretended to be Laci’s neighbors.
“Who put her here?” she said in a deep voice. “Can somebody please move her! She doesn’t stop talking.”
They were right. That was Laci.
And I missed it. I missed her so much.
Without her, a part of me was gone forever, too.
I grew up in Escalon, a small agricultural town of about 2,000 people adjacent to Modesto in central California. I remember Escalon as a picture-postcard of rural small-town life: cattle ranches, farms, dairies, and orchards. The Sierras rose in the distance.
I was the second of four children. My father, Cliff Anderson, was a foreman on a peach and almond ranch, and my mother, Elta, was a full- time homemaker. In high school, I was an A-student, a cheerleader, and Homecoming princess. I don’t know where I got the nerve to be a cheerleader. Unlike Laci, I was always shy, self-conscious, and easily intimidated.
During my freshman year, I started dating Dennis Rocha, the son of a dairyman whose Portuguese family had deep roots in Escalon. Dennis was already attending Modesto Junior College when a mutual friend introduced us at a dance in Turlock. We became serious very quickly. After I graduated from high school in 1969, Dennis and I married in a traditional ceremony at St. Patrick’s Church attended by four hundred people, most of them Dennis’s relatives, or so it seemed. We moved into a new three-bedroom home on the north end of his family’s 365- acre ranch.
I started Modesto Junior College but left by the end of the year, feeling pressure to be a wife, not a student. My first child, Brent, arrived in 1971. As much as he became the center of my world, I sensed that I had married and left school too young. I couldn’t articulate it then, but I felt I might have cheated myself from life experiences.
So much was going on in the world, so much was happening up the highway in the hippie-populated San Francisco, and I was curious about life beyond the small California town I knew way too well. I was just nineteen, a child myself, and I had barely started to live my own life. I wondered what opportunities I might be missing.
But I kept those thoughts to myself. Besides, my life wasn’t terrible.
Nearly four years later, I got pregnant again, this time with Laci. I wish I could remember more about carrying her for those nine months, but I’m afraid the pregnancy was uneventful other than the time I got sick eating a bowl of banana-nut ice cream, which, in reality, I didn’t even like. I also craved hot fudge sundaes and See’s candy, and ate my fair share.
“No wonder I’m chubby,” Laci said when she was twelve years old and I told her about the significant amounts of chocolate I’d consumed while pregnant with her. “I didn’t stand a chance because of all the chocolate you ate while you carried me.”
True to form, Laci arrived right on time, on her due date of May 4, 1975, and she was in a hurry. It felt as if I had just checked into Doctors Medical Center when I complained to the nurse, “I think the baby’s coming.”
“The doctor’s not here,” the nurse snapped. “That baby can’t come yet.”
I said, “Oh yes it can,” and we went back and forth like that for what seemed to me a cruel number of hours.
In reality, I was at the hospital only two hours before I gave birth. When the doctor said I had a baby girl, I was ecstatic. Then, as I’ve always joked, I saw her. Laci was wrinkly, with a mess of dark hair, and my first impression was that she looked like my grandmother on my father’s side, not exactly the personification of beauty. But as time passed, Laci got much cuter. She was all smiles and spunk. And no one ever thought of my grandma when they saw her.
I named Laci after a pretty girl I had met when I was in high school. I’d done the same with Brent, his namesake being one of Dennis’s college buddies who I thought was very handsome.
Having felt so good through my pregnancy, I sensed Laci was going to be an easy baby, and I was right. It took just two weeks until she slept through the night, and she almost always woke up in the best mood. On most mornings, I found her sitting in her green spindle crib with a smile on her face, staring at the yellow-and-orange elephant quilt on the wall. She amused herself and smiled all the time. I hate to boast, but she was so cute. I still look at those pictures and want to squeeze her.
Just after Laci turned one, I split from Dennis—proof that I spoke from experience when I later declared to Scott that divorce is always an option, not murder! At the time we split, I thought the reasons were complicated, but I now know that I was simply facing what I felt in my gut. I’d married too young. Except for my children, nearly everything in my life was left over from high school, and it didn’t feel right. I was still in my early twenties, and I craved more.
I’ve read that Dennis is the one who left, but I’m the one who moved out, and it wasn’t easy or pleasant. I wrote him a letter, explaining my thoughts and feelings as best I could, and then we talked about it. He wasn’t happy about getting a divorce, and as often happens when feelings are raw and unclear, we had a hard time for a while.
I took Brent and Laci and moved in with a friend in Escalon, then we rented a house in Modesto. Around Christmastime, Dennis and I got back together. The holidays were hard on both of us. But the reconciliation lasted only a few weeks, and this time when we split, it was permanent (though today we have a good relationship).
In early 1977, I moved to San Jose, thinking that was the change I needed, and got a job at an insurance company dealing with workmen’s comp. But San Jose turned out to be too big a city for me. The nightly news was filled with reports of crime and violence, and I thought, Who needs this when I can have the quiet, comfort, and relative safety of a small town?
Within six months, I moved back to Modesto and rented a small two- bedroom duplex. The woman next door, Susan, had a son the same age as Laci, and we became friends. I also met her sister, Roxie, who had kids the same ages as mine. I appreciated being back home and woke up mornings feeling as if the sun was shining on me again.
I got an office job in the shipping-receiving warehouse for Standard Brands, which, after mergers and acquisitions, became Nabisco and then RJR. A few months later, my cousin Gwen called me at work and said she wanted me to meet a guy.
Even though it was a Friday night in November and I didn’t have plans I said no. I wasn’t in the mood for any kind of romantic stuff.
“Sharon, his name is Ron Grantski, and he’s a nice guy,” she said.
“No, thanks,” I said and hung up the phone.
She called back three or four times and persisted until she wore me down.
Still, I didn’t want to go by myself, so I brought a girlfriend from work. We met Gwen and her husband, Harvey Kemple, at a local hangout. At the time, Ron worked for Harvey in construction. Initially, Ron m...
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