I was sitting at the computer on the Friday afternoon of February 12, 2002 when I got the call. If it hadn’t been pouring rain on my day off, I might have been out doing something physically demanding. As it was, I felt glad to hear from my old high-school boyfriend, Tim. That is, until he finished his second sentence.
“Did you hear about Kim?” he asked.
“Uh, no. Why?”
“Well,” he began, in a low tone, “She was killed the other day. By her boyfriend. In a gas station.”
“What! You’re kidding me. You’re not? That’s a mistake.” I really didn’t believe him at first.
“No, it was on the news. My nephew saw it and called me. They showed her picture and his, too. He’s really ugly-looking. But they didn’t use her real last name. They called her Kim O’Hara.”
“Oh, it can’t be Kim. That must be wrong.” I would prove him wrong with the power of the internet as I clicked to Google News and typed in her name. “Oh god.”
There it was, a story by the LA Times
ANAHEIM — A nationwide search continued today for a man suspected of gunning down a former girlfriend outside an Anaheim gas station in front of witnesses. Gary Clifford Laine, 48, allegedly fatally shot Kim Marie O’Hara, 44, yesterday outside a Shell gas station near Ball Road and Walnut Street, said Anaheim police Sgt. Rick Martinez. “They were boyfriend-girlfriend,” Martinez said, though police are unsure how long the relationship lasted or when it ended.
I felt my body imploding on my soul when I realized that my friend had been murdered. Poor Tim had to sit on the phone and listen to me alternately rage, cry, swear, and scream as I overcame the denial phase and entered anger. He admitted that he hadn’t seen Kim in almost two years. I told him how I’d seen her at our class reunion in October of 2002, the night of the world series. I think we both felt like absentee friends.
After an hour we hung up and I called all my old friends from high school. For the rest of the day I cried and smoked cigarettes on the porch and watched the rain and thought about Kim.
Once, we were surfer girls together. We spent our summers at Huntington Beach getting dangerously burned so that our skin would glow at whatever party we’d find that night. We attended the kind of mammoth keg parties that got mobbed by strangers from all parts of Orange County, with a keg full of Budweiser and a rock band playing next to the pool, where we made new friends in the line to the “head” before the police helicopters and riot squads showed up to disperse the crowd.
This was our social life from 1974 to 1976. We were also young girls who told each other everything. People often stopped us in the mall to ask if we were sisters. My then-future boyfriend, Tim, lived across the street from Kim and we’d sit on her lawn giggling for hours hoping to catch his attention. Kim and I were the epitome of Anaheim teenagers in the ‘70’s.
Kim and I were friends since 1974 when we attended Trident Junior High School and, later, Loara High School and still later Cypress College. She, like many of us, gravitated toward the Art Department and we also worked at the Renaissance Faire in Agora.
Kim married Michael Showell in 1980 and gave birth to their beautiful daughter, Stephanie, that year. Stephanie just graduated with her Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering at George Washington University in Washington DC. Stephanie will never have the chance to move Kim to the East Coast to support her and bond with her as an adult, which was her intention once she finished school and began working.
With her second husband, Gregg Delmonico, Kim had two lovely children: Kristen, 14, and Joshua, 11, who reside with their father in Garden Grove. These adolescents grew up without a mother and will have to struggle to fill that void for the rest of their lives.
Kim adored all her children and worked hard to give them love, attention, and support. Now, three children, plus two husbands, a mother, brother and numerous cousins and legions of friends, have to live with trauma of her death. Including me.
In life, Kim Topolnak was a sweet, free-spirited individual brimming with creative energy and a zest for life. With her long, flowing blond hair, Kim was a perpetual Guinevere, breathing life into the most listless of situations. Kim had many, many friends and with her exuberant personality, she had the ability to turn a drab gathering into a rousing party.
The last time I saw Kim was at our jubilant 25th class reunion in October 2002 during the sixth game of the World Series in which Anaheim won. We danced up a storm that night and spent hours talking about the old days. Here is how optimistic she was: she did not reveal to me any of her personal problems, or of the violent incident the previous July. She kept the mood light and happy throughout. I will always think of her as that free-spirited, fun-loving, artistic girl we knew from school.
My best friend from High School was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in front of a Subway shop next to Disneyland. She was having lunch when he arrived and he asked her to go with him on a Valentine’s Day getaway. She refused. Somehow, he talked her into walking outside and once there, he shot her a dozen times with his handgun. As she lay dying in the shadow of the “Happiest Place on Earth,” he got into his truck and drove past her, shooting her twice in the head. Then he drove all the way to Texas where he inexplicably turned himself in at a police station with handcuffs pre-attached.
He is now serving life in San Quentin. She left behind three children. She died because she refused him.
I still think of her constantly.
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