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Lane Bryant victims’ families, friends long for answers, closure

HiltHamiltfather RhodMcFarlvictim Lane Bryant shootings holds photos his daughter his home Lockport Illinois Thursday January 31 2013. | Joseph P.

Hilton Hamilton, the father of Rhoda McFarland, a victim of the Lane Bryant shootings, holds photos of his daughter at his home in Lockport, Illinois, Thursday, January 31, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 2, 2013 6:06AM



Even with the healing powers of time working their magic, Hilton Hamilton sometimes struggles to hold it all in.

“I just want to holler and lash out; it makes me so angry,” said Hamilton, father of Rhoda McFarland, one of the five women shot to death five years ago inside a Tinley Park Lane Bryant store. “It’s because there’s no closure. It’s an empty feeling, a very empty feeling.”

Despite thousands of leads, authorities have yet to identify a suspect in the Feb. 2, 2008 shootings that left five dead and one injured.

Killed that day were store manager McFarland, 42, of Joliet; Carrie Hudek Chiuso, 33, a Homewood-Flossmoor High School social worker from Frankfort; Sarah Szafranski, 22, an Oak Forest High School graduate; Connie Woolfolk, 37, a mortgage broker from Flossmoor; and Jennifer Bishop, 34, an intensive care nurse from South Bend, Ind.

No suspect means no motive, Hamilton said. The unknowns eat at him.

“I know nothing can bring her back but someone needs to be brought to justice,” said Hamilton, of Lockport. “It seems like this has become a cold case.”

On that cold, snowy Saturday when his daughter lost her life, Hamilton, having just finished a shift at Caterpillar Tractor, was talking in the parking lot with a co-worker when a woman from the office came out and put a hand on his shoulder. She told him he needed to go home immediately.

Not a day has passed since that he doesn’t think about his joyful, always helpful daughter who voluntarily went into work that morning at Lane Bryant to help a co-worker catch up.

“That was Rhoda, always helping,” said Hamilton, now retired. “She was so full of happiness. She was getting ready to get married. She had so much to live for.”

The ordeal has been rough on the whole family, Hamilton said.

“I want people to call in with leads. Somebody has to know who this person is,” he said.

Mike Hudek echoes that sentiment.

Hudek lost his best friend that day when his sister Carrie made the fateful decision to go shopping. Now, in addition to missing their daily phone conversations, he, too, ponders the unknowns.

“I believe the police are doing what they can but it frustrates me that somebody out there knows this guy. He’s somebody’s husband or brother or nephew,” Hudek said.

“There needs to be more accountability for this,” Hudek said. “Society is becoming more violent. People need to come forward and take a stand to put a stop to this. It’s shameful that somebody is protecting him.”

Hudek Chiuso was “all about helping others before herself,” Hudek said. “She was a real advocate for kids.”

To honor his sister’s memory, Hudek and other family members started Carrie Fest, an annual fundraising event that resulted in college scholarships. Similarly, the family of Szafranski, the youngest victim, also donated any money given in Sarah’s name to Oak Forest High School officials, who transformed it into scholarships.

Both programs, from which more than 20 high school students have benefitted, have since expired.

“I’d love to keep (Carrie Fest) going,” Hudek said, “but the way the economy is, it’s getting harder to ask for donations.”

Recent fests had seen a decline in turnout, he said.

The community’s generosity is a fitting legacy for a woman who gave so much during her short life, he said.

“If we could do an inkling of what she did in her short life, we could make a big difference,” he said.

Ted and Mary Szafranski declined to talk about Sarah, their high-achieving daughter, who was the youngest to lose her life that morning. But in an email, they wrote, “We think about our Sarah every day, and miss her greatly. We lost a daughter; our children lost a sister; our family lost a niece, a cousin, a granddaughter. She had her whole life in front of her, and it was senselessly taken away. We think about the things that could and should have been, but are not. But mostly we remember the wonderful life she lived, and try not to focus on the day she died.”

The couple also commiserate with the families of the other victims.

“We know they are hurting as well, and while we can’t do much to comfort them, they are in our prayers,” the Szafranskis wrote.

They also expressed appreciation for the police, the media and everyone involved in trying to solve the case.

“We don’t have any answers, but we do have our faith, and we try to cope,” they wrote. “We have family and friends who provide comfort and support, and we would like to thank everyone who has extended their sympathy and prayers to our family. We greatly appreciate it.”

Barbara Moore, a friend of Woolfolk, lives in Park Forest but returns often to her roots in Joliet.

“It’s not unusual for me to exit I-80 at Harlem,” she said. But she can’t bring herself to go to the Brookside Marketplace shopping center where her dear friend and mentor, Woolfolk, was killed that day.

“I still miss her; I’m still very upset that it hasn’t been solved,” Moore said.

Moore and Woolfolk worked together for the village of Park Forest.

“She was such a strong person,” Moore said.

Since the murders, people have speculated about why the women weren’t able to escape or fend off the attacker.

“It’s easy to say they should have done this or that but knowing how strong Connie was, if there was any way to get out of that situation, she would have,” Moore said. “It tells me that it’s not as easy to save yourself in these situations as one might think.”

Like the other family members and friends of the victims, like everyone who has followed the case, Moore waits for answers, for the unknowns to be revealed.

Meanwhile, “I am just missing her,” she said. “I keep her picture on my fridge.”



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