Home Ryan O'Hara Memorial
Barbara's Letter to Delaware Courts
February 12, 2007-it was the day that would forever change many, many lives. The nightmare began with that phone call around midnight. I was only told that there was an accident. Mother’s instinct told me before anyone else did that Ryan was dead. I knew-I just KNEW. My son, Justin, and I were able to reach my husband, Terry, who was on business in Baltimore. He tried calming me while we were on the phone. But, I KNEW.
I lost my way driving to Christiana Hospital-unexplainable as we had driven dozens of times that way to University of Delaware. I pulled over on the side of the road-my heart was pounding loudly. The adrenaline pumped through my body causing me to tremble and quiver uncontrollably. My teeth had begun chattering involuntarily. I knew-I just KNEW. Friends were calling me, and they kept reassuring me, but I knew differently.
After arriving at the hospital, we were met by hospital staff. My husband had yet to arrive. As they pulled us in that room, I KNEW. I can still hear Justin screaming and crying when the doctors told us. I was paralyzed-the world moved in slow motion. Terry arrived within minutes. Justin’s actions confirmed the worst for him. I watched them both sobbing relentlessly. I went to them and tried to console them-my own tears would not be shed for hours-I was totally numb and in shock.
We were then led into the room next to us. Do you have any idea, as a parent, what it is like to walk into a room and see your dead son? I can’t remember how many times I walked in and out of that room-I just couldn’t leave Ryan by himself. I still envision Justin sitting by his brother’s bedside holding his hand. How could this be? But this was only the beginning of the never-ending nightmare.
Four hours away at Penn State, my other son, Brandon, waited impatiently with his friends gathered around him. Justin called him with the earth-shattering news, only to be hung up on by Brandon. I later found out that Brandon raced out of the dorm and proceeded to run out of the building into the piercing cold. Like the movie, Forrest Gump, he kept running and running until he just couldn’t run anymore. His friends were able to get a car, put Brandon in it, and bring him home to us.
In the meantime, Terry, Justin, and I drove home in absolute silence. There were no words worth mentioning. I remember staring out of the truck window at the vast, empty darkness. “Why? WHY?!” I thought to myself. The moment we entered our home, I felt Ryan all around me. His pictures, his bed, his books, his stuffed animals…they were all there, but he wasn’t. Suddenly, it was as though a dam burst inside me, and the tears refused to stop. I have never felt so lost, so helpless, so bleak, so hopeless, so empty….
The phone began ringing constantly, cars were pulling up in the driveway, and within no time, family and friends appeared and surrounded us. The news was spreading like wildfire. Our priest called us by 7:00AM. Our high school had already made an announcement about Ryan to the students, and there was a moment of silence for him. Our home, by then, was filled with people and activity. And, it just wasn’t because of the terrible news, it was because of all of the love that so many people had for this great kid, Ryan.
We received hundreds of letters and cards-they came from all over the United States. His viewing and funeral yielded well over 2,000 people-Ryan would have been astounded. You know, it’s odd, as he always wanted us to be proud of him. He often asked, “Are you proud of me, Mom?’ If only he could see all those stacks of cards and letters and read them and see all of those people and hear them talk about what a wonderful, young man he was. “Yes, Ryan, we are so very proud of you. Do you know how much you were admired and respected?”
Ryan loved his life. He had a thirst for knowledge, and education was so important to him. He constantly read, argued politics, and thrived in the UD marching band. He worked as an RA because he liked working and socializing with others, and he told us he wanted to help to pay for his education. Not only did he work as an RA, but he also had worked previously at Commerce Bank in Newark, and he worked in the admissions office at UD. I even remember the last conversation I had with him. He and I were having a heart-to-heart talk about all the wonderful things occurring in his life. He also told me to stop worrying about all the financial stuff for college-it was up to him to take care of it and for his dad and me to start having some fun. When did he suddenly grow up to be so wise and convincing? I will never forget that conversation. I could tell you so much more about Ryan, but I may never finish this letter. However, I think that Ryan should tell you more about himself. I’d like to share a poem he had written about himself in the fall of 2006. It pretty much sums up his beliefs, goals, and his morals.
As you learned in the poem, Ryan was going to be a history teacher. One only has to wonder how much Ryan would have positively influenced his future students with his goodness and caring heart. He believed in himself, and he didn’t care what others thought. My son was less than three weeks away from being 21, yet he did not drink. As an RA, he helped many students find their way at college. He urged them to stay away from drinking, drugs, and peer pressure. He taught so many of us, including me, that it was ok to not give in to all of it and to just simply believe in yourself. The world is crying out for the kind of teacher he would have been.
I admired his strength, his determination, and his drive. I loved reading letters from UD parents who attest to this because of how much Ryan helped their child as a UD student. Even in his death, Ryan was able to reach out and comfort us. He left behind a four page will/letter in case something should happen to him. He told me to think of his death as a long stay at college. He wanted his money split between his brothers, and if there was anything left over, he wanted it to be used for them to study abroad. He left entries behind for many of his friends. He told us not to worry, he would be watching and protecting us whenever he could. What 20 year old does this?
So this brings me to the point that I must focus on. My husband and I were raised with many principles and values. One of them was accountability for one’s actions. We know that with every choice we make, whether it be the right choice, or the wrong choice, that there is always a consequence to go with it. Terry and I have always worked hard on making the right choices. We choose to be law abiding citizens. We choose to be “good” people and be respectful of others as well as the law. We have tried hard to instill our values and beliefs into our children. It is obviously very evident that Ryan had consumed all that we taught.
However, as I am writing this, I wonder if justice, the very thing that Ryan believed in will prevail. Will it uphold Ryan-the victim in this case? Mr. Hoover made an unlawful choice to run a red light on the night of February 12, 2007. His choice had had rippling consequences that our family, loved ones, and friends will forever have to endure. What kinds of consequences will Mr. Hoover have to endure?
We read and hear about countless numbers of people who “escape” the system and “get off” charges. Have we become a society where the law no longer protects the innocent but rather aids the guilty? As a teacher, I see more challenging students than ever before who aren’t afraid of getting into trouble let alone going to the principal’s office. We all see it, experience it in our jobs, our everyday lives-people thinking only of themselves. It seems to be “all about me”. Are we now at a point where there is more evil than good? Do we make light of criminal behavior and broken laws to a point that we are actually accepting it?
Many of us here today would have to agree that changes need to be made. Laws and rules are to be followed-not broken or ignored. Mr. Hoover has broken the law several times. He was cited in 2005 for not having proof of car insurance. He ran a red light-even passing by a car that was stopped at that light. He killed an innocent young man-our son. Again, he had no proof of car insurance. Mr. Hoover has made bad choices, and with each of them there is accountability.
Because of his choices, we live the nightmare everyday. We will never get to celebrate Ryan’s 21st birthday, see him graduate, become a teacher, fall in love, marry, and give us grandchildren. Most of all, we will never get to see that silly smile or hear that funny laugh again. We have been deprived of so much. There definitely is a huge hole in my heart that will never heal-sometimes it feels so very empty. Ryan is my first thought as I awake each morning, and he is my last thought as I close my eyes each night.
Yes, our lives are forever changed, but we must not forget the life that was cut short, the innocent victim here, Ryan. As a parent, it is my duty and obligation to be Ryan’s voice. He believed in our justice system. Please don’t let it fail him. We suffer everyday because of Mr. Hoover’s choice-the pain unbearable at times. What about the pain and suffering that Ryan endured? Mr. Hoover needs to be held accountable for his actions and poor choices. He must accept his consequences, no matter how harsh they may be. We, Ryan’s parents, his brother, his family, his friends ask you, Ryan asks you, Your Honor, to see that justice does prevail in this case. Thank you.