January 03, 2007 News & Features » Cover Story


The Harvey Family 

2006 Richmonders of the Year

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To the Readers: As Style Weekly enters its 25th year of publication, we've had reason to look back at some of our history, and consider how the community we cover has — and hasn't — changed. Part of that history is our annual Richmonder of the Year issue.

This is the 22nd year of the issue, and during that period the recipients have varied widely. There have been people — and, in some cases, institutions and groups — who were celebrated or controversial, headline-making or behind-the-scenes. They have sprung from such diverse areas as politics, medicine, philanthropy and revitalization.

But they have at least one thing in common. They've all been at the center of significant change for the community — a cultural shift, an improvement, perhaps an especially critical challenge.

Our editorial team struggled to reach a conclusion about our 2006 recipient, the Harvey family, in part because they were so unlike recipients in years past. We worried about dredging up painful memories. We wondered whether we could meaningfully explain our choice to readers. Or whether this would be seen as some kind of award.

In the end, we couldn't avoid the impact, significance and lasting effects of the Harvey tragedy in telling the story of Richmond in 2006. It brought up old haunts, matters of race and economics. It forced us to take a hard look at our community.

That first day of the year, and the days that followed, reflected an important moment in the city's life. And the Harveys, their lives cut short, join our other recipients in collectively telling a story of change through the years.

The Editors

Hell has a place on earth, it turns out. So there's no need to recount in detail what happened in the basement of the Harvey family's home on 31st Street in Woodland Heights on New Year's Day 2006.

We'll refresh only as a point of entry: Bryan Harvey had walked out of the house to get the newspaper that morning, leaving the door ajar. Moments later, he and his wife, Kathryn, and their two little girls, were bound and gagged in the basement — fearing the worst, no doubt, and ultimately facing something far more hellish.

Maybe this isn't the story you expected, a story that would jump-start 2007 on a more hopeful note, one that focused on accomplishment, strides the city had made or the oft-alleged return of the center city. It would certainly be easier to divert our attention to a hero who made things markedly better in 2006, someone alive and vibrant, who looked up from these pages with eyes that inspire.

We're left with something far more painful: A family who would live less than a day together in 2006. What happened Jan. 1, 2006, was excruciating and inexplicable: a quadruple homicide that turned out to be just one stop along a murderous rampage in the days that followed. In a span of five days, seven Richmonders, two families, were brutally murdered at the hands of two ex-cons from Philadelphia. All for what amounted to a couple of laptop computers.

Chances are you're familiar with the horrid, graphic details — the duct tape, the claw hammer, the kitchen knives. You've probably dreaded the anniversary spread in the newspaper, the TV news cameras stationed in front of the boarded-up house, the replayed footage of Ricky Javon Gray and Ray Dandridge in shackles.

It isn't easy to look back. And we anguished over naming the Harveys as Style Weekly's Richmonders of the Year for 2006. Would it seem cold? Inappropriate? Sensational?

In the end, we felt we had no choice.

The Harvey family has become a symbol of sorts, a painful reminder that no matter how far we think we've come, we haven't come far enough. Richmonders have responded with good works in many ways, through memorials and foundations, a children's run and a scholarship fund. Yet this awful tragedy also forced us to rethink what we thought we knew about crime and violence, and whether we could, in reality, protect ourselves and our loved ones from them. And then we all proceeded to lock our doors just a little bit tighter.

AT STYLE, the newsroom discussions leading up to this issue were difficult. Some who work here knew the family. Many lived nearby or shopped at the Carytown toy store World of Mirth, owned by Kathryn Harvey, 39. Bryan, 49, was a well-known musician, singer and songwriter in numerous bands including brink-of-fame band House of Freaks in the late 1980s and early '90s, and familiar to colleagues who knew him and writers who covered his music. It seemed almost everyone knew someone who attended school with Stella, 9, at Fox Elementary, or Ruby, 4, at Second Presbyterian Child Care Center.

We struggled with the uncomfortable racial overtones, some of which spilled into public debate last year during the news media's coverage of the Harveys. Why was so much attention focused on the white family murdered the same day as a black father, Lewis Casper, and his 17-year-old daughter, Roicana?

By Dec. 29, 81 people had been murdered in Richmond in 2006, but the four Harveys were talked and written about more than the other 77 victims combined. You can argue that the heinousness and the randomness of the crime was the sole reason. But privately, few people can deny that skin color and economic class played a part. And something so awful rarely occurs arbitrarily, to middle-class families, in middle-class neighborhoods, to people with no connection whatsoever to their killers.

This isn't to say the Jan. 6 murders of Mary and Percyell Tucker and Ashley Baskerville on the South Side were any less tragic. But you could at least understand a connection. It wasn't random — Gray and Dandridge had both dated Baskerville, Mary Tucker's daughter, who waited in the van while the two men murdered the Harveys. And there were no children involved in that crime.

There is no justification for such killings, and unfortunately the Tucker/Baskerville family became known as the "second family" bound and murdered by Gray and Dandridge. Unrelated to the Gray and Dandridge killing spree, the Caspers, murdered in their South Richmond home Jan. 1, barely registered a blip in the local news. Their losses, along with the other Richmonders murdered in 2006, are no less tragic.

Symbolically, the Harveys represented something different. Unlike people who feel trapped in the inner city's economic prison with nowhere to go, the Harveys chose to raise a family in the city, in an aging trolley suburb wedged between the poor and the disenfranchised. They chose to send their children to city schools. They were educated, engaged, culturally aware — and they had options. In essence, they were the answer to that great question: Can Richmond attract and lure back those young middle-class families who so often flee for the suburbs?

To look at the Harveys, the answer was yes. They were the new faces of this city's residential renaissance, the one great hope for counteracting the increasingly oppressive economic disparity that plagues Richmond.

"To still enjoy rock music, to open a store called World of Mirth — they were our prototype for the good life, for the way to do it right," says Donelson Forsyth, professor of leadership studies and social psychology at the University of Richmond.

"Events like this challenge your worldview," Forsyth says. "And I think it shook a lot of people's worldview. How much badness is out there? Should I strive to be faithful to my community, or should I strive to look out for my own self-interests?"

Indeed, the Harvey murders affected a segment of the population that typically goes untouched by violence and murder.

The Rev. Ben Campbell is pastoral director at Richmond Hill, a historic monastery and retreat, where residents pray daily for the region. He says the Harvey tragedy symbolically exposed the polarity of two Richmonds. "We live in at least two cities, and maybe more," he says — cities divided by economic classes that reflect the longstanding racial divide between black and white.

"But it's really no longer a race line," Campbell says, "it's an economic line." For now, the economic line coincides with race. Most of the city's poverty is consigned to black families: Of 113,108 African-Americans who live in the city, 29,907, or 26.4 percent, live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data. As for crime, of the 1,530 inmates in Richmond City Jail, 1,359 inmates, or 89 percent, are black.

That's the kind of environment that Gray and Dandridge knew — the inner city of Philadelphia, broken homes, the inside of prison cells.

Losing the Harveys has brought a level of understanding that transcends both sides of the racial divide — not physically, but spiritually. More than anything else, it serves to remind us the problems of our oft-forgotten society can come roaring back to get us. We can push them away, move away from them, build our individual fortunes and live the American dream, but somewhere desperation is boiling over. Losing the Harveys should remind us, Campbell says, that "we've got this incredible indifference, which will kill us."

The reality of poverty in the African-American community is unrelenting. It spawns all that troubles the inner city: broken, single-parent families, a depleted industrial economy, a school system overwhelmed with children of uneducated, often illiterate parents. During Richmond's economic heyday, tobacco warehouses in Shockoe Bottom supplied work to those who wanted it. Today, what are the options if you live in the city with no means of transportation and little education?

Families such as the Harveys weren't going to fix all of that. They were building something in Richmond, though — something positive, something that offered a glimmer of hope. Eventually, perhaps, with more families like the Harveys moving in, this city might veer onto a path that decentralizes the poverty and despair.

Take the public schools. If only there was a way to decrease the concentration of poor students to something less than 40 percent per school, Campbell says. Other cities such as Raleigh, N.C., have achieved this through regional efforts, by redrawing some school districts based on socioeconomics instead of geography. Education, Campbell says, is the best tool for breaking the cycle of oppression.

"Our prayer is that two things will come out of this: One, people identify with one another and with the pain of the collective people and collective pain of society. We are one people," Campbell says. "Second, people commit themselves to the creation of a just and healthy society."

One of the deepest roots holding back progress, he says, is what he calls "the myth of the American dream." He explains, "Life is one of opportunities misused as selfishness, freedom misunderstood as escape from responsibility."

When desegregation created "white flight" to the suburbs in the 1970s, people left Richmond in pursuit of the American dream — which to most meant living in safe, gated communities with neighbors of similar economic means, similar education and, perhaps unwittingly, similar skin color.

The Woodland Heights community represents something of a hodgepodge of income and diverse backgrounds, a place where the new Richmond middle class collides with the old. The neighborhood's civic association contacted the Rev. Sylvester L. Turner, director of outreach for Hope in the Cities in Richmond, to help them deal with the racial tensions that bubbled up after the Harvey murders.

"There was an attitude that showed up along racial lines," he says. "We're easy to point fingers. The overall lesson: We all have to work together because it's our problem. It's not their problem. It's not their fault."

For Kristin Hott, the brutality of what happened to her close friends the Harveys opened her eyes to a world of suffering that she discovered has many citizens. Hott teaches adult education classes in Gilpin Court, where her students often share similarly tragic stories. Before the Harvey tragedy, she would listen and offer compassion, but afterward, she understood the sisterhood of suffering.

Her husband, Johnny Hott, played a New Year's Eve gig with Bryan Harvey the night before he was murdered, and he was questioned aggressively by detectives in the immediate aftermath. The tragedy affected the Hotts on many levels.

"I never knew how to connect to [the students] beyond listening to them," Kristin Hott says. "When I went back to class in January, probably January 10, I realized that this was one of the most healing places I could be," she says. "It crossed socioeconomic barriers."

Eventually, Hott found a way to cope, if you can call it that, or at least put what happened into some context that keeps her from falling apart. Subduing the anger and pain may never be possible, but Hott kept reminding herself that even Dandridge and Gray were children once. They didn't come into this world as murderers.

"I don't believe in pure evil. If you think this is an unfortunate accident, then you haven't learned anything at all," Hott says. "If there is anything that we have learned, we have to pay more attention to how things get to that point."

Hott, along with Heidi Abbott and Carter Carpin, all close friends of the Harveys, are launching a nonprofit, Not With These Hands. Its mission is to try to understand and address violence.

"They were babies once — I would have taken care of them," Hott says of Dandridge and Gray. "What happened to them along the way is not just their parents' responsibility; it's all of our responsibilities. We didn't think that Gray and Dandridge were coming to that community that day, but they did. You know there is going to be a next time, so what are you doing to stop that?"

In addition to Not With These Hands, which launches Jan. 30, there has been an outpouring of response since the loss of the Harveys.

There is the Bryan and Kathryn Harvey Family Memorial Endowment, which has already issued grants to the nonprofits Art 180, Comfort Zone Camp and the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community in honor of the Harveys' commitment to music and art. Earlier this year, friends and family also launched the first Ruby's Run in Byrd Park on Nov. 4, with proceeds going to the endowment.

The Carytown Merchants Association decided to hold its new outdoor New Year's Eve Party Sunday night in part to honor the Harveys. "They were an important part of Carytown," says Heather Teachey, owner of Que Bella and incoming president of the association. Organizers closed down the streets and hoisted a ball atop the New York Deli, in hopes of providing a fun, safe outdoor event that could attract families.

It's still a little much to comprehend for Mark Harvey, the brother of Bryan who often speaks on behalf of the family. He's tried to set an example, if possible, that life has to go on despite the tragedy, but he's not sure he'll ever be able to make sense of it.

"I don't know that we will ever be able to process it, or ever want to," Mark Harvey says. "With this kind of [tragedy], this thing could unravel everything."

So many uncomfortable feelings and emotions bubble to the surface when the topic turns to what happened, how it happened, to whom it happened. There's the media coverage, not excluding Style, which many people thought made matters worse.

For Chris Zechini, everything's a reminder. "My daughter was spending the night there that night," Zechini says. "It's been hard for them. My middle daughter was like a mother hen to Ruby. Stella slept over here a lot. I haven't dealt with it that well at all. I've been in denial for a year."

Zechini, who owns a downtown catering and vending business, tires of the exaggeration of the Harveys being the "perfect family." "They weren't the perfect family, they were a great family," he says. "Oh my God, they weren't perfect. They were a typical couple trying to raise a family."

And there are so many what-ifs that plague the Harveys' close friends and family members. "The door was open," Zechini says. "As something as stupid as the door was open. But because it was so random, it was going to happen to somebody on that street. Bryan went out and got the paper, and that was it ... a moment's difference."

The randomness and brutality of the violence, especially against the children, left Alane Cameron Miles, minister of membership and outreach at First Unitarian Universalist Church, unable to wrap her mind around the Harvey murders. She's suffered through many tragedies with the aggrieved, and can usually find solace, some bridge to peace. But this one has left her unsettled like never before.

"Of all the really awful things I've seen, and all the broken families I've worked with, I don't think any have taken me this long to work through," Miles says. "I'm still trying to figure out where I am in all of this."

She sees a lot of different factors coming into play. Bryan Harvey was once quoted as saying that he did not believe in God, he believed in people. In the end, he was betrayed in the worst possible way.

"It is the brutality of the attack, and it's the small fame of the family. All four of them were shining stars in their associations with other people," Miles says. "The children stood out, and the parents stood out as eclectic, funny, involved people."

In a larger context, the Harveys have also helped, through grief, bridge communities that haven't crossed paths before. Still, it's not easy to talk about.

"I've got to say every murder in Richmond since then I have read about carefully," Miles says. "I have thought about the names, the people in those families. I don't think I did that with such a concentrated effort before."

Others have used the Harvey murders to try to reach out to communities that haven't been afflicted with violence. The Rev. Turner, of Hope in the Cities, says the tragedy should raise awareness that you can't simply move away from the problem.

"The response is the same: 'I thought it would never happen in my community.' We think that where we live exempts us from the ills of drugs and crime," Turner says. "Safe communities — it's not just the block that I live in, it has to be the entire city that I live in. Until that attitude develops, things like the Harvey case will happen again."

On Aug. 17, the day Gray was convicted of murdering the Harveys, Fattah Muhammad and a group of anti-crime activists stood on 31st Street in Woodland Heights and preached against black-on-black crime. It was an odd scene, because black-on-back crime wasn't at issue here.

"This isn't just about mourning, it's about a new awakening," Muhammad told a small gathering, via a small P.A. He was speaking from the experiences of an inner city filled with crime and murder. That he was in Woodland Heights, which was Bryan and Kathryn's answer to suburban living, seemed out of character. But that was his point.

"We have to get angry," he told those who had gathered. "We sit around here like nothing happened, man. We've got to get up. Everybody should have to taste [tragedy]. Everybody should have to smell that. … As you see, it comes over here."

That everyone is finding his or her own lesson in the tragedy that started 2006 can be seen as constructive — or destructive. Miles says there may be no lesson, in the end, other than people must draw closer together instead of closing their doors.

"Of the hundreds of people I've talked to, everyone has a lesson," Miles says. "Everyone feels that we could give the lesson back if we could change this."

Alicia Rasin, a community activist who has long served as the city's unofficial grief counselor, only feels sick. She doesn't see racial issues in the case of the Harveys, only a beautiful family wronged by a diseased society.

"I never forget the Joneses, in Gilpin Court, with Christopher Goins. [The Harvey murders] just reminded me so much of that. It took the same little innocent children and people," Rasin says of the 1994 slayings. Goins shot and killed five people execution style, including three children (ages 3, 4 and 9) and the unborn fetus of his ex-girlfriend. He killed everyone except Tamika Jones, who suffered eight gunshot wounds and lost her unborn baby, and Tamika's younger sister.

"This should be a wake-up call for everyone," Rasin says of the Harvey murders. "It wasn't a thing about color. I didn't look at the color of their skin. It just makes me sick to my stomach to think about it.

"Nothing can bring them back," she says. "That's a wound that will never heal. It might close, but it will never heal."

Mark Harvey and his family certainly aren't healing — yet. But he's found something he didn't expect in losing his brother's family.

As a brother, he was often at a distance, he says — he didn't run in the same circles with his brother's friends. But as he went through the house on 31st Street and began to gather and process their belongings, he found how genuinely close the family was. Kathryn and Bryan would leave each other little notes throughout the house. He found them everywhere, it seemed.

"It was as close as I could get to them," Mark says. "I didn't really have a true sense of their lives until afterward, which is part of the tragedy." S

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