John Putnam's Journal
May 26, 2003 (part 2)
I would have to let my brother confirm the following, however I understand it to have occurred this way. Here is how he found out.
Phil had gone to Lake Texoma north of Dallas about an hour and a half for a weekend on the lake with his best friend Steve Zurlis. Mom and dad were unable to reach Phil that morning on his cell phone. Mom just happened to have Steve's mother's number and managed to get her on the phone. Steve's mother then went to the cabin Steve was in and informed him what was going on. It was now up to Steve to wake Phil and basically tell him his sister was dead.
Phil recalls waking up very disoriented. Phil is a very heavy sleeper. Steve managed to get him sitting up and proceeded to tell him what was going on. I wasn't there so I cannot quote the conversation. Apparently it was so unreal to Phil, he thought Steve was kidding him. Phil placed his hand in Steve's chest to move him back and noticed Steve's heart was pounding out of control. Phil took notice of this because Steve has heart problems and even had a heart attack while the two were roommates at Texas Tech. It was then he realized Steve was not joking. Phil gathered his things and hit the road for mom and dad's house. He notified the Highway Patrol he was coming and he would be doing about 90 mile per hour. They pretty much told him to be careful.
I don't recall where I was exactly when Phil called me. We had cell phones with 2 way radios. He radioed me finally and we both were so serious, uncomfortable and speechless. A plan was beginning to form. I told him I would round up mom and dad and we would wait for them to get to the house before we left. He called me several other times before he got to mom and dad's to let me know where he was.
Audrey and I made it back home and packed some things. I honestly thought they would find her before we left Fort Worth and there was a possibility we would not even need to leave. In fact, that is what I though all the way down there. Any minute they would call with the news they had found her.
Audrey's mother had stayed with us that weekend. We woke her and told her what was going on. We were in shock and not much was said. I can't imagine being in her position that morning. She was the only one that saw us outside of the immediate four and our wives. She couldn't say anything. Not that she had anything to say anyway other than "be careful". We left her there and she went back to Houston on her own. As we parted I asked her to let my neighbor to the east know what was going on in the off chance we were to be gone a while.
By the time we left N Richland Hills to go back to Grapevine to get mom and dad and wait on Phil, I believe it was around 7:15am. The sun was up for sure by now and the nausea that has yet to leave me was burning. It was bad. I think Phil radioed me some time in that trip. We planned on meeting him at mom and dad's so we could all be together right away. We had to do it. The family had to be together as soon as possible. This was so tragic and we were all so shocked and devastated. And it was just the beginning.
Audrey and I arrived back at mom and Dad's I am sure around 7:30am. Mom and dad's stuff was packed and in the driveway. We loaded their stuff in our car and went into the house. They were cleaned up and dressed. Coffee had been made and they were standing in the kitchen. Still swollen in the face from crying. Eyes red and empty. I swear, it was like they checked out. I think mom had gathered some things on the bar that had to do with Laura. I can't remember exactly, maybe some pictures or notes Laura had written her. Laura was always leaving mom and dad notes. I can't remember specifically. We had discussions on where we were going, how many cars we needed and so on. I had never heard of Marble Falls. It was awful.
Maybe 10 minutes later Phil and his wife pull up. I saw him out the window without him knowing it. I remember seeing him and having a feeling I had never had. I can't explain it, but it was so sad. Mom and dad went to greet him at the front door. Audrey and I stayed behind in the kitchen. I could hear them hugging and milling about. I could not make out anything specific. I did not want what was about to happen. I was about to come face to face with my brother for the first time. It was going to be awkward. Sure enough, he comes through the door into the kitchen. We could hardly look at each other. We didn't embrace. In fact, I remember a few moments passing before we even spoke. When we did speak, it was about what we were going to do from here. The plan.
We decided that Phil and his wife would go to their home in Euless and pack. He was to call me when he was leaving and we would catch up to each other on the highway and he could follow me. Mom and dad would ride with Audrey and I. So it was, Phil and his wife left.
Mom and dad couldn't wait any longer, so we loaded up and decided to just go over to Phil's house. I know they wanted to be on the road. We hit the ATM for some cash and proceeded to Euless which is only minutes from mom and dad's. On the way there, I had a revelation. We all needed to ride down there together. It was not fair to Phil to have to follow us for 4 hours and miss out on the conversations that were about to be had. We arrived at Phil's and I told him the new plan. I think he was relieved. Phil and I rode up front. Our wives rode in the seats behind us. Mom and dad climbed in the third row.
As we pulled out, I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a friend of our family named Michael. Michael and his wife Mary live down the street from Phil. Michael new Laura. He was standing in his drive way and gave us a wave as we left. No one saw him but me. I didn't say anything. He was sad and concerned, I could tell.
I believe it was about 8-8:30am on May 26th. Two hours or so had passed since we found out she was gone. God, what a sick feeling. I remember before we left, my dad asked me if I brought shoes. What a weird question. I had shoes, I just wasn't wearing them. The weather was kind of cloudy and cool. It rained a little here and there on us on the way down to Marble Falls. Dad had received directions from the local police in Marble Falls on how to get there. Somehow we were told that Marble Falls was southwest of Austin. I just hooked it toward Austin with plans to take a right once we made it through Austin and start looking for Marble Falls signs. Completely unaware that Marble Falls was northwest of Austin.
Within minutes of leaving Phil's we were on the Highway. I was speeding, but not like one might imagine in this situation. Dad was concerned I was speeding in an effort to get there as fast as possible. He said to me from the back, "I don't care if we get there at noon or 3." I acknowledged him and let him know I understood.
We took Interstate 35W out of Ft Worth. It was quiet almost all the way. I could see mom leaning into dad's shoulder with his arm around her. She cried quietly all the way down there. I was still thinking they were going find Laura any minute and call us with the news. Every time mom's phone rang, I was sure that was the call. It never was. I remember being aggravated because conversations would take place in the back and I couldn't hear them. I kept asking them to speak up and repeat things. I was so agitated. We weren't in church yet, speak up.
We may have stopped once or twice for gas. Eating was out of the question. We all felt so sick. We didn't even talk about food. The second time we stopped, we were south of Austin. We were heading south looking for a highway we were never going to find if we kept going. The directions we received were terribly wrong. On a whim, Phil asked the store clerk where Marble Falls was. She thought about it a while and started spouting off about how we needed to go back north and take Highway 290 in Austin north towards Llano and follow the signs to Marble Falls. Still not realizing that Marble Falls was northwest instead of southwest of Austin, I again became irritated. I told Phil to leave her be, she didn't know what she was talking about. Dad decided to buy a map. Sure enough, we had gone was past it. We turned around and finally actually headed toward Marble Falls.
Then something really weird happened. We got back on Interstate 35 going north this time. We had about 10 miles to go before we picked up Highway 290 to head northwest toward Marble Falls. I came up on a green mid-sized sedan. There was a sticker in the rear window. It was the kind of sticker that parents put in their rear window that has the symbol of their kids sport. Like a volleyball or basketball or something. The stickers usually have the child's name on the bottom with their team name over the top. They are pretty common. Anyway, this one catches my eye because the sport symbol is a soccer ball. I played all my life and enjoyed coaching my son's team. No big deal. My eyes ease down below the soccer ball to the child's name. "Laura". O.K., that is a bit odd that I would see something like that right now. Next my eyes move up to see the team name above the soccer ball. "Angels".
I didn't freak out or anything. I didn't even mention it to anyone else in the car. Up to that point in my life, I didn't really believe that sort of thing could happen for a reason. I subscribe to the notion that sometimes amazing coincidences occur. I was also very wary of my senses becoming overly acute to finding my sister in symbols and looking for signs of her all around myself to make myself feel better. At that moment, I dismissed it and told myself I was not going to live my life looking for stuff like that. Telling myself she is showing herself to me. I just wasn't going to do it.
I believe it was around 1:30pm when we finally found the lake house at Horseshoe Bay where we were told to converge. We pulled up in front of the house and all got out. Dad had us all huddle up and he said a short prayer. He could barely talk. He didn't know what to say. He just asked for strength mainly. We broke up and headed for the door. We were about to face a group of people none of us knew. This was Laura's life we were entering.
We walked in the door and everyone there just sort of stared at us. I don't know who was hugging who. We knew Justin who is Laura's boyfriend, and Justin's dad Al. That was about it. I believe there was about 10-15 people there other than our family. I can't imagine how that group felt. I painted a scenario in my head of what they might have been thinking when we showed up. I figured they felt like here they are, all already in the house consoling each other. Each family member accounted for. And here comes Laura's family, one member unaccounted for. There had to be a feeling of responsibility in there some where. I don't know how to express what that feeling was like.
Laura's boyfriend looked like hell. I tried to at least speak to him. Just to break the ice and let him know we were with him. I didn't really think he would imagine we would be mad at him. But it was a possibility if we were totally irrational. All he could say to me was, "She meant everything to me." Over and over. Nothing else.
The lake house was so nice. They had a wet dock out back for their boat and jet skis. There was a deck above the dock for sunning and such. They had a pair of super high powered binoculars set up and fixed on the search area. An older gentleman named Jerry Cypert escorted myself and some others out to the deck and sort of gave us an update of what was going on and what had happened as well as a lay of the land.
The story was finally presented to us for the first time. Laura and her boyfriend had been spending the Memorial weekend with Laura's boyfriend's cousin and his girlfriend. The four had spent Saturday the 24th down near San Antonio floating inner tubes down the Guadalupe River. A popular Texas pastime. That night, they spent time in Gruene where Justin says he proposed to her informally and she accepted. Apparently, they made their way back to Marble Falls sometime Sunday. Sunday night the four went to Chili's in Marble Falls for dinner around 10pm. After dinner it was back to the lake house. Laura supposedly took a nap. Around 12:30am or so, all but the cousin's girlfriend decided to head out on the water for some music, drinks and star gazing. Not a damn thing wrong with that. A couple of hours later, she was gone.
Having finally received an outline on what happened, we began wondering what next. Do we sit around here and look through binoculars and hug each other? What do we do? I knew I didn't want to be there. It was getting to the point where Phil and I needed to be alone. We have such a rich bond, our time together was what we were counting on. This was all so new and bizarre and shocking, we didn't know what to expect. We had no experience in missing person recovery in a marine environment. There were a lot of questions and a lot of learning about to happen over the next 14 days.
At some point, the game wardens showed up to question Justin and his cousin. Mainly Justin's cousin because Justin was just so out of it.
Justin's cousin apparently goes by the nickname of Pepper. Pepper took a pretty nasty gash on the back of his head and had some other superficial injuries about the arms and upper body. We stood back while the wardens asked him more questions. He had certainly been through a tremendous experience, however he seemed put out by having to keep answering questions. His mother was there and she helped him answer them. I hate to put it in writing when I am not impressed with some one, but my first impressions of Pepper were not good. The guy takes my sister out on a boat, boat gets hit and she is killed. Pepper to this day has never spoken a word to my brother or myself. Not that I need him to. Hell, I don't even want to talk to the guy. It just seems odd.
The older gentleman, Jerry, offered to take Phil and I and our wives out to a place called "the point". This was a strip of land about wide enough for a dirt road that went out about a quarter mile into Lake LBJ. At the end of the strip was a lighthouse. The accident sight was about 200 yards off that point. We drove out there and parked and walked out to the light house. The wardens were dragging the lake. Jerry gave us more details on exactly where the impact happened and so on. He was a very kind man, soft spoken and gentle natured. He was perfect for the role of explaining to Phil and I what happened. We really liked and respected him. He was awesome. Thanks Jerry.
Jerry somehow disappeared, even though he was standing right behind us. We stood up on a bench and looked out toward the accident site. It was tough. Trying to imagine what happened to her. Where was she? It was so surreal. Sickening. I cried there a little bit. All the way down to Marble Falls, I pretty much held it in. Holding it in caused this terrible head ache. I didn't want to cry in front of people because I didn't want strangers coming over and putting their hands on me, hugging me and consoling me. Telling me it is alright to cry and such. I know it is alright to cry. I cried there a little with Audrey. Eventually, we stepped off the bench and headed back toward the car. Phil stayed behind.
Now is a good time to mention that Phil's relationship with Laura was different than mine. He had a closer bond with her. He looked out for her and protected her. They even lived together in Lubbock while she was in school and he was working out there. He stayed out on the point a little while longer and we waited for him. He was talking to her. Asking her to go ahead and come up so we could go home. We had no idea what was in store for us.