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For three daughters, Carr killed more than a cop

FORT MYERS — Three daughters. One merely a girl. One a teenager. One a grown mother herself.

They were sisters who lost their father in a rampage even strangers remember, when a man named Hank Earl Carr fatally shot the Tampa police detective they knew as Dad.

Randy Bell's daughters learned to grieve in the shadow of their father's heroism. While thousands lined the streets in reverence, the daughters felt sidelined in the pomp: A eulogy that mentioned their step-siblings didn't mention them.

Feelings of being forgotten mingled with their grief, but the three daughters spent the next 10 years dealing with the loss of their father very differently.

One, as a girl. One, as a teenager. One, as a grown mother herself.

• • •

Kacey Bell was 10 when it happened. She fell to the ground when she got home from school and her mother delivered the news. Her biggest concern before that was what her next Beanie Baby would be.

But she never really cried. Her mother worried and sent her and her big sister to counseling.

Kacey's memories of Dad became sketchy as she grew, gaps filled with stories relayed by her sisters and mother. She was just 3 when her parents divorced, after all. Weekends with Dad were fun, but he died too soon for her to stockpile enough remembrances to draw from.

Now 20, Kacey still has a hard time talking about it. When the anniversary comes around each May, she tries to stay busy, to think of other things.

But somehow in her quietness, she feels closer to her dad.

"I'm exactly like my father," she says, repeating what her mother has told her. "I pout like him. I'm quiet and shy like him."

• • •

Ashley was 14. Old enough to have memories. (The smell of his unmarked cruiser. His obsession with NASCAR. The way he smiled without parting his lips.)

Young enough to have questions. (Why did you divorce my mom?)

Unlike her sister, Ashley can't stop talking about it. She confers with her boyfriend. She talks to her mom. She felt better talking to a counselor. She even talks to her dad.

She readily thumbs through the artifacts of her father's life and death. Newspaper clippings, medals, videotape of news stories — all stored in a cedar chest at her mother's house.

She still Googles her father's name from time to time. A communications major in college, Ashley once opened her journalism textbook to find a story about her father's death.

She has a strong desire to speak to Bernice Bowen, the girlfriend of her father's killer, who, in Ashley's mind, is the most evil person involved in the day's events. "I would like to ask her why."

• • •

Demetra Bell Jones was Bell's firstborn child by his first wife.

At 23, Jones had memories of her father she knew her little sisters would never share: The chance to feel his embrace at high school graduation. The weight of his arm on her own as she walked down the aisle. The sight of his face as he held her newborn son.

Today, she puts it in a spiritual perspective. You can't ask why, Jones says. You just can't.

"God does what he does for a reason," she says, her voice breaking. "And my Dad died the way that he did because that was the way it was supposed to be. I mean, who gets to be remembered for the things that he did after 10 years?"

The momentum of motherhood helped Jones move through her grief into the day-to-day.

Her son, R.J., was 2 1/2 years old when Bell died.

Whenever Jones sees the pictures of Bowen's dead 4-year-old son, she can't help but see her own baby, her own blond-headed son — a boy now about to be 13, who remembers his grandfather through pictures and his mother's stories.

For three daughters, Carr killed more than a cop 05/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008 7:58am]
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