Lonna Whiting

Crafty writer, strategic thinker, curious learner.

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Violent murder of neighbor creates secondary victims

Like most people, I have a morning routine. The first thing I absolutely have to do is brush my teeth and check for text messages. I’m so used to this first step in my day that I can do them both at once, brushing with my left hand, scrolling with my right.

Generally, I’ve missed nothing overnight but a couple LOL texts from my best friend Ashley.

On a recent morning, however, an Inforum Alert came up: “Another suspicious death reported in north Fargo,” it said.

As a resident of north Fargo, I got curious about where the murder happened, thinking it was likely near the train tracks and a rundown liquor store — at least a mile away from us.

When I opened the link I found myself staring at the house directly across from our house. A pretty cream stucco early-century home with a beautiful red front door. My partner Kevin and I call it The Music School. Previous owners had a sign that said Music School on the front to advertise their tutoring business.

Murder in the Morning

The morning sun was just creeping into the neighborhood as I watched media collect on our front lawn to catch pictures and interview authorities. I took photos from behind our screen door because I just didn’t want to be “that” neighbor — nosy and in the way of people trying to do their jobs.

I wandered the main floor where I found Kevin sitting in the sunroom, the room farthest away from the scene unfolding outside.

“What’s going on out there?” I asked.

“I don’t know but I’ve been up since three. They’ve been out there since then,” he said. “Whatever it is, it’s not good.”

Later that day, I returned home from work to the same scene I witnessed nine hours earlier, only fewer police cars and no media.
Murder evening

I lingered at the window for a few moments and watched a young man talking to some officers. He was wearing rubber gloves and carrying some totes from the house to his car. He was the victim’s roommate. He’d been crying, his face and eyes red and puffy. I can’t imagine what he had to go through, entering his residence where his friend’s body still lay, investigators leaning over the scene taking pictures and sorting through private belongings.

We learned today that the murder was a random act, and that a previous one in an apartment complex farther south and west of us was also random and allegedly committed by the same man, Ashley Kennedy Parker. Apparently the apartment victim was overcharging for drugs.

My neighbor: He was fetching his murderer a glass of water.

His name was Samuel Traut. Sam to friends. He was a recent NDSU college graduate, Bible study leader and seminary student. Twenty-four years old forever.

Before I knew about what a fine young man Traut must have been, and before I learned the act was random, I assumed the crime was drug or gang-related. My assumptions were wrong, and maybe a little racist, too.

But the part that really bothers me the most? I slept right through all of it. I was oblivious to everything that went down that night. I slumbered away through the sounds of a brutal murder just a couple hundred feet from my front door. I heard not a peep of the subsequent police, ambulance and fire department mayhem that ensued shortly afterwards.

Parker may have tried to knock on our door and we just didn’t hear him.

Instead, Traut drew the short straw that night and now he’s dead. Bludgeoned with a hammer for being kind enough to offer a stranger a glass of water in the middle of the night.

Eerie, haunting, sad, our neighborhood won’t be the same. It makes us all secondary victims because now we look out our front doors or down the block only to be reminded about the random, violent act that happened in The Music House. And we’re also reminded that we got lucky, too, because we didn’t hear a knock.



Going to the Funeral is the Easy Part

Going to the Funeral is the Easy Part.

From the writer of “My Demented Mom” blog, who writes about a fact that enrages me about victims of Alzheimer’s and related dementias: the mass abandonment of friends and family unwilling or too scared to see it through. Yes, perhaps the funeral is the easy part. Face it: dementia does and will happen to people you love, maybe even yourself. Fear will not prevent it from happening. Bravery will help you create a fulfilling experience despite the slow deterioration of one’s memory, faculties and personhood.


‘D’ Word x 100

  1. You will notice something just isn’t quite right years before a diagnosis.
  2. You will dismiss an inability to maintain finances as simply being bad with numbers.
  3. Your mother will lose sight of a daycare child while in her care, only to later find him down the street at a neighbor boy’s house once the authorities have been notified.
  4. You will make up excuses to Child Protective Services when they call and ask if you think your mother is a danger to the children in her care.
  5. You will take your mom out for dinners and have to order for her.
  6. It’s just depression.
  7. It’s because Dad left.
  8. It started when Grandpa died.
  9. Her thyroid could be off.
  10. There might be a vitamin deficiency.
  11. You will give her premium vitamin supplements.
  12. You will watch another year go by.
  13. You will take your mother out for a beer and she can’t follow a conversation.
  14. You will think she’s socially awkward.
  15. You will be embarrassed shopping with her when she thinks she recognizes a stranger as someone she knows from her past.
  16. You will have a difficult conversation with your sister-in-law that begins with the words: “We need to get your mom checked out.”
  17. You will set up an appointment with a neurologist.
  18. You will throw a digital clock in your mother’s face after it takes you two hours to show her how to set the alarm.
  19. You will notice your mother no longer wears her hair curled.
  20. You will wonder why your mother’s house isn’t as tidy as it used to be.
  21. You will watch her eyes fading to gray.
  22. You will know something isn’t right.
  23. But it can’t be.
  24. She’s overmedicated.
  25. Too much cholesterol medication.
  26. Sleep apnea.
  27. You will take her for a neurological exam that she fails miserably.
  28. Another year.
  29. You will admit your mom to a psych ward after she panics when she can’t make the babies their bottles.
  30. You will pray with every molecule of your being that it’s not that.
  31. You will see her on visitation day and watch the looks of pity from the suicidals.
  32. You will consult with the resident psychologist who says it can’t be that because she’s too young.
  33. Further observations are needed.
  34. More tests should be ordered.
  35. Time will tell.
  36. You will force your mother to retire and give up driving.
  37. You will tell her she can finally do everything she’s always wanted to do.
  38. You will lie. Over and over again.
  39. You will try to explain over the phone for 20 minutes how to microwave a burrito.
  40. You will visit and watch a children’s cartoon because your mother says that’s all she can find on TV.
  41. You will help your mother pack away 37 years of her life as a daycare provider.
  42. You will give your mom books to read because reading is good for her.
  43. You will realize she can’t get through a full page without forgetting what she just read.
  44. You will call Mayo Clinic.
  45. You will notice your mother is no longer wearing makeup.
  46. You will dust off her car parked in her garage.
  47. You will take her to a restaurant and have to order for her and explain how to cut her food.
  48. You will get 20 phone calls in one hour asking about a cable television bill.
  49. You will lose your cool.
  50. Over and over.
  51. After every test is performed.
  52. After your mother gets lost walking down a hallway to the bathroom on the 8th Floor of Mayo Clinic.
  53. After they say her brain has atrophied so much that they can’t tell what it is.
  54. After the neurologist says it’s statistically most likely to be Alzheimer’s.
  55. After the nurse educator calms your fears.
  56. It’s sporadic.
  57. It won’t happen to you or your brother.
  58. Have you gotten Power of Attorney.
  59. You need to talk about assisted living.
  60. After the ride home.
  61. After your mother says she doesn’t feel safe alone.
  62. After you try and try and try to hold off the inevitable.
  63. After the pleas to social workers for help.
  64. After the Medicaid denials.
  65. After the family tells you you’re not doing enough.
  66. After you started drinking a bottle of wine a night.
  67. After you throw dishes and punch the wall.
  68. After you cry and cry and cry.
  69. After your mother says Meals on Wheels is gross.
  70. After your boyfriend says one more breakdown and it’s over.
  71. After you say you’re a fierce advocate for Alzheimer’s research even though you feel like a weak coward.
  72. After you decide to sell your mother’s house.
  73. After the POA papers are signed.
  74. After your mother moves in with you.
  75. After the first time you have to help her in the shower and realize she’s not wiping her anus.
  76. After you call her a child.
  77. After you throw a baby doll at her and say she’s worthless.
  78. After you shame her.
  79. Over and over.
  80. And you cry and you cry.
  81. And rage and rage.
  82. After you watch your mother put a sock over her boot.
  83. After you help her curl her hair and put makeup on.
  84. After you read her horoscope to her and know whatever it says can’t be true.
  85. After you tell her she’s getting an “apartment.”
  86. After you sell the house and use all the money for assisted living.
  87. After you put your mom in a home with 90 year olds.
  88. After you decorate her room but you know it doesn’t matter to her what it looks like; it matters to you.
  89. After the first holidays she doesn’t know it was the holidays.
  90. After the nights and days worried every time you forget someone’s name.
  91. After you realize your mother is thriving in her new “apartment.”
  92. After it settles down you realize.
  93. More changes are coming.
  94. More questions and forgetting is inevitable.
  95. More grief and pain and rage.
  96. But before things change more.
  97. Before it gets worse you spend as much time with your mother as you can.
  98. Before she no longer recognizes you.
  99. Before the long, long goodbye is finally just goodbye.
  100. Right now this one word has changed your life forever: dementia.

Don’t come here if you’re looking for advice

Hi there. This is my first post on my second blog ever. It’s going to be entirely devoted to all things writing, editing, creative and inspiring. I hope you visit and visit often because I’m going to rock your universe with poetry, prose and performance.

The first order of business is to tell you that I’m not going to offer you writing advice. So if you’re looking for advice or if you’re asking yourself at this very moment “What would Lonna do?” it’s going to be a while until you hear back from me.

The second order of business is to tell you that I’m going to show you good writing. And I’m going to tell you why it’s good writing, because in showing you this you will no longer need to ask “What would Lonna do?” Likely if I’ve posted something, I find it of value as a learning tool that we can discuss together. I think we can learn a lot from each other, don’t you?

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