DOWNEY - By now every interested person in Downey must have read or heard or wondered about the terrible event on the evening of May 3 that claimed the lives of Rio Hondo Elementary School principal Theresa Ford's husband, Russell, and their daughter, Emily.The two were shot and killed by Emily's estranged husband, Robert Lehmann, who that morning had lost custody of the couple's daughter. "Shortly before the victims' arrival to pick up the 7-year-old girl, Lehmann is accused of sending the child out of the home with his current wife for ice cream and arming himself with a firearm to wait for the victims," Orange County prosecutors said in a statement. Reaction among Theresa's Downey Unified School District associates and close friends, as well as those who know her only socially, was swift, predictably compassionate, and solicitous. Beyond such expressions of commiseration as "It's horrible!", "It's sad," "It's just awful!", "It's absolutely shocking!", "We grieve for her," and so on, several individuals within and without Theresa's immediate family circle have voluntarily assumed to perform what must be countless major and minor details that must be done in the wake of, as someone mentioned, an "unbelievable" act of violence, i.e., funeral arrangements (schedule synchronization, food and beverage preparation, other logistics matters) have to be made, including the scheduled funeral service (a mass) at 1 p.m. on May 13 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church where Russell was a parishioner for decades. One such caring friend whose name we dare mention is current DUSD chairman Martha Sodetani who, as Assistance League president, was able to enlist the league's help in matters of food. One small but significant detail she said she and her group of volunteers almost didn't include in their purchase items list was cups (for coffee, etc.). This must be puzzling to some, but not if the after-service reception is going to be held at a private home, as is allegedly the case here. This is an example of what friends can do to assist the family, she said, who are otherwise at this time overcome and numb with grief. Sodetani said she felt for Theresa. She could, however, identify with her grief only to a degree: she herself suffered the loss sometime back of her 4-month-old daughter, in addition to that of her husband, Gordon. Circumstances are different in Theresa's case, she said. "Her wounds are deeper, profoundly deeper." At any rate, right after the tragic event of Tuesday last week, DUSD superintendent Dr. Wendy Doty issued the following statement to the whole district: "It is with great sadness that I must inform you that Theresa Ford, principal at Rio Hondo Elementary School, suffered the tragic loss of her beloved husband, Russ, and her adult daughter, Emily. There is an on-going homicide investigation by the Costa Mesa Police Department [where Emily resided]. A District support team has been made available to Rio Hondo Elementary and to any other school that wishes to access their services. In Theresa's absence, Allison Israwi, current vice-principal, is leading Rio Hondo with the full support of the Downey Unified School District. "The Ford family requests privacy at this difficult time. Friends and colleagues have established the Ford Family Memorial Fund at the Downey Federal Credit Union (Account #109350-2). Donations may be made by mail or if you are a member, by on-line transfer. "The Downey Unified School District is a family. We stand ready to support Theresa [who has been with the district for more than 30 years] in her time of need." It was important, Doty was to emphasize again later, that in an intensely traumatic incident such as this, Theresa and her family's privacy ought to be respected while they go through the grieving process. An important element of the process, Doty said, and "the important thing right now" is to help enable Theresa in every way, and as soon as, possible to resume her normal routine. Councilman Mario Guerra, who has similar close ties to the Fords, said: "It's a terrible thing to happen to such a classy, well-known and well-respected family. We share their sorrow, of course. We extend to Theresa our love and support." Because of the "large circle of friends" the Ford family has come to enjoy over these years, we're told that an outpouring of sympathy and affectionate remembrances for Theresa and her family (and thus more details that the family cares to share) can be anticipated in the days ahead.
********** Published: May 12, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 4