Spirit of Christmas lives on through tragedy

By Chuck Weber email
Posted by Rachel Leigh email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - Just days from Christmas, their mother was murdered. Then a day later, someone stole all their presents.

Since then the community has responded with help and gifts for 2-year-old Ariel and 3-year-old Reggie. Wednesday, on Christmas Eve, it was Santa Claus' turn with help from Palm Beach County firefighters and Sheriff's deputies.

A motorcade of deputies cars and fire trucks rolled into the neighborhood near West Palm Beach where the children and their grandmother are staying with relatives. Shirley Richards, mother of 21-year old murder victim LaRonda Becker, was escorted from the house with her grand kids. Richards smiled and wiped away tears at the sight of the vehicles and dozens of people who yelled out in unison, "Merry Christmas".

But the best was yet to come. The door to a trailer opened, revealing Santa and presents-- lots of presents. After the children met Santa and got a quick look at some of their gifts, a seemingly endless parade of sheriff's and fire-rescue personnel carried into the home, boxes and bags filled with toys, presents and food.

"When they said to come outside, I didn't expect this," said an overcome Richards. "I don't know what to say. This is way more than I expected. Saying 'thank you' is not enough."

Richards' daughter was killed December 15 at the Haverhill Gardens apartments. Detectives say LaRonda Becker's ex-boyfriend 22-year old Reginald Johnson shot the woman in front of her children. Johnson faces murder charges.

After hearing about the killing, and then the theft of the family's Christmas presents and tree, Sheriff's Deputy Sean Lutz and Fire-Rescue Lt. Lee Forshner said they knew they had to do something. They started exchanging e-mails with people in their departments, and the gifts started pouring in.

Forshner said, "It's kind of hard to go home to your family, and all you have, and realize they're not going to have that." Deputy Lutz said he wanted to show the family there are also good people in the world.

"It broke my heart," said Deputy Kelli White, wiping away tears. White, a parent herself, was the first deputy to arrive at the murder scene. "I just wanted them to have something nice, so they could put the tragedy aside for a couple hours."

Richards said while she would give anything to get her daughter back, it was good to know so many people throughout the community care.

An account to help the children is set up at Bank of America. It's called the LaRonda Becker Family Fund.