Exactly one year after their daughter was killed by a family friend, a Murrieta family continues to struggle to come to grips with the devastating loss of 17-year-old Saskia Burke.
Last Dec. 20, William Gary Simpson, 19, allegedly savagely stabbed Saskia to death in the family home as she wandered out of her room in the early morning hours to get a bottle of water.
Catherine Burke said that Simpson was her son Ian’s best friend for over a decade and a trusted family friend.
Simpson lived in the Burke’s Murrieta home for several months while he attended Riverside Community College along with Ian.
“He was like a member of our family,” Catherine Burke said by phone Wednesday. “We had the kind of warm home where our kids’ friends were always welcome.”
As the nation has been gripped with the devastation of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Burke family has felt a similar pain every single day since Saskia was killed.
“Many people think we should be processing things a certain way and we are trying to process this our own way through bits and pieces,” Catherine Burke said. “We were thrown into therapy immediately after, but it was all too overwhelming.”
The pain is unfathomable for many people to understand and Burke says she struggles with relating to people in her daily interactions because the pain is still so raw and intense.
“I feel like I am standing in one spot screaming and nobody can hear me,” she said. “The brutality of what he did to our family was a reflection of the anger inside of him. I saw it.”
Before the tragic events unfolded, the Burke family moved from the Los Angeles foothills to seek out a better lifestyle for their three children.
“We picked Murrieta because we felt it was a good place to raise the kids and get them the best education.”
Burke explained she and Saskia were blessed with a unique mother-daughter connection.
“She was my muse in life and my inspiration.”
Burke recalled how her kids would dress up in silly costumes to clean the house and do chores.
“We are an artistic family and loved being together.”
Ian and the Burke’s 13-year-old daughter are both grappling to cope with the aftermath of their sister’s death.
“Ian and Saskia were like twins. They are two years apart and were incredibly close,” Catherine said. “His friends treated her like a little sister.”
The youngest daughter who witnessed the carnage is afraid that Simpson will return to terrorize the family.
Burke does her best to comfort her family and reassure them with love while trying to find the strength to process and deal with her excruciating pain day to day.
“Recently I haven’t been doing so well. I am ‘mom’ to everyone and many times there is nobody to take care of me,” she said. “This is just such a hard time of year. I can’t bear to look at Christmas lights or holiday yard displays, it’s just too much.”
Burke says she will be at Simpson’s trial and hopes that her surviving children and husband can somehow find a way to heal from the horror of that terrible night last December.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s office is seeking the death penalty.
Simpson has a trial readiness conference scheduled for March 8, Riverside County District Attorney spokesperson John Hall said.
Stephanie D. Schulte is a writer/photographer with SWRNN. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.