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Surviving The Murder of An Adult Child

by Bridget J. DeFalco about a year ago in grief

Zachary John Richards, my Beloved Son

Zachary and Me 2013, His Last Christmas

Zachary was a wonderful and happy soul who battled inner demons that, in my opinion, were generational in nature. Zach had co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, (depression, anxiety, and substance use). He had been a victim of the "Kids for Cash" scam in Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. This messed him up mentally and emotionally, but at the age of 27, he was doing well. He was getting his life on track. He was working, had his own rental home, and had his very first car. He was doing everything a healthy adult should do. He was in a relationship with a young woman he truly cared for, and they were expecting a child.

Zach had been "clean" for thirteen months when September 2014 rolled around. He was happy and optimistic for the first time in his observable adult life. Then, one day, it all came crashing down...

Zach was late for work one morning, he wrecked his car rushing to get to work on time. When he called in to the job to tell them what happened, they fired him for being late. When he called his girlfriend to tell her what happened she broke up with him and told him that the child she was carrying wasn't his. Zach lost it...I didn't get to have a decent conversation with him after this point, before I knew it he was gone.

You see, the events of this day were too much for him to handle in early recovery with his new-found coping skills, and he relapsed. He relapsed hard. He found himself with people who were active in their addictions and ended up in a girl's house that night where they were smoking pot soaked in formaldehyde, drinking hard liquor, and smoking crack.

The story I pieced together from the information available to me is how he ended up being savagely murdered by a coward.

He was a guest in a girl named Jessalynn's house. Their was a man their named Amir who brought the crack to the "party". When he fell asleep, she piced his pocket for his last bag of crack, street value of about $70.00. She smoked the crack while everyone else was asleep. When Amir woke up and discovered what she had done, he began beating her. Zachary woke up to the noise and went downstairs and protected the girl, stopped the beating, and threw Amir out. Amir yelled "I'll be back!" and Zach went back to bed thinking it was the end of things.

Several hours later, at around 5:00 a.m., there was a knock on the front door. Zach went downstairs to open it, and at the same time, Amir kicked in the back door, grabbed a butcher knife out of the knife block, and stabbed Zachary in the back, immediately incapacitating him, and ran out the front door. Zach had been hit in the left lung, according to the coroner, he died within minutes. He died in the arms of his addicted friend, Bear, who told me his last words were "Help me.".

My other son, Justin, was an assistant district attorney at the time, and unbeknownst to me, he was dispatched to the crime scene. At the same time that Justin was in transit, the police were knocking on my front door. Two detectives broke the news to me, they said "I hope you find some comfort in knowing that your son died a hero, protecting the women and children in the house". That gave me no solace.

I immediately remembered Justin and called him. The first words out of his mouth were "it was Zach, wasn't it?" I told him the hardest truth I ever spoke in my life. The county district attorney was immediately contacted by Justin and the investigation was turned over to the state attorney general's office due to a conflict of interests.

In 12 hours the murderer was caught.

He plead to third degree murder and received a sentence of 40 years, he still has a shot at life, but not my Zach, Zach's chances are all gone.

How did I mentally and emotionally survive this tragedy? A mother's worst nightmare?

It wasn't easy.

I was in a Master's program at the time, I took a semester off. I didn't move off my couch for several weeks, depression and anxiety were my only companions. I couldn't eat. I didn't pay a bill, I'm still, in 2021 recovering from the financial ruin my depression brought to my doorstep. I used up all my savings, and couldn't work for two years. I live paycheck to paycheck now, but I survived.

What helped me get through the dark time in my life was twofold. The love of my family, my brothers, my sister, my son, my husband, my stepdaughters, and my grandchild, helped immensely. What helped me the most, however, was finding a reason to move on, taking my grief and focusing it in one direction, toward one goal.

I couldn't allow Zach's death to be in vain. No. There had to be some reason for him to die, some worthy cause. I found it.

I picked myself up off the couch in January 2015 and I went back to school. I started a 501(c)3 corporation called Show Zach Your Love, and I began giving free counseling and case management services to people with substance use disorders and their families. I finished my Master's Program and became a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and began helping people. I feel like every person I help is honoring Zachary's memory. It works. I continue living.

It is now 6 years gone by since that horrible day. I have a bittersweet sadness about me that I don't think will ever go away, but I am still here, still trying, still breathing, and believe me, there were days when I thought I wouldn't be.

Whatever happened to his girllfriend? Her name is Krystle. She called me in July 2015 and asked for a DNA test for her son, saying that she made a mistake, she did believe the child to be Zachary's. We did a DNA test, and yes, TJ, the little boy, is my grandchild, my "bonus baby". Only Zach could give me the gift of a grandchild from beyond the grave. He looks just like Zach and triggers me at times in my grief, but he is a big part of my life and I love him dearly. He was born November 8, 2014, 2 months after Zach's murder.

Zach has a daughter, too, Ava, she is 8 years old now and doing well, she is being raised by my stepdaughter from my first marriage.

Justin now has 2 children, ages 2 and 5 months, two little girls named Emily and Hannah.

This is what keeps me alive. Family. I survived.


About the author

Bridget J. DeFalco

An aspiring writer who has had many life experiences that can at times be shocking, heart-warming, and sometimes brutal.

A survivor of domestic violence, and the murder of her 27 year-old son.

Much to say, trying to find ways to express it.

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