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By Diana L. Chapman
I drove by the house where it happened, just around the corner from where I live in San Pedro, not knowing what I was looking for. I don't know if I just wanted to be drenched in more sadness. Or if I just was looking for his kids, who are really adults now, but to me they are still kids. Nice kids.
I know both of them.
Maybe I was looking for a sense of solace. Maybe a way to make sense out of something that makes no sense and never will. Maybe I was looking for a way to get rid of my anger that Johnny O'Kane had just shattered so many people's lives, especially his kids, and shredded the hearts of another family, turning them into a pulp that will never completely heal.
What I did get oddly was a soothing sense of peace -- a symbol I can only paint for you through words as I had no camera to capture this image and one that perhaps some readers might just laugh at. But it worked for me. I can't say why.
First, I spotted the shrine to Michelle Stamper -- a group of burning candles with "we'll miss you" signs and a colorful butterfly at the spot where the 45-year-old woman also known by the nickname "Shellie" --was shot to death across from O'Kane's house on Almeria Street directly behind my home.
I heard two shots ring out one right after another at 10:35 p.m. the dreadful night of Nov. 2. It was just the beginning of the shredding hearts in the stillness of the black night that soon burst into the sounds of loud sirens and a roaring helicopter. That's when it became all too clear this wasn't a movie shoot or that someone wasn't just fooling around with a gun.
Something bad had gone down in the seaside Palisades area of San Pedro, where crime typically is less, not more.
The next day, the community learned that Johnny O'Kane, 55, a well-regarded leader in the iron worker's union, also popular with many town residents he befriended -- including me -- chased down and shot Stamper, his girlfriend, outside his home that night apparently over a dispute that turned deadly for both. He shot her in the head twice.
Within minutes, he then called police and reported what happened before shooting himself. He died three days later at County Harbor UCLA Medical Center surrounded by colleagues and family, who were trying to come to grips with this tragic turn of events, according to news accounts.
O'Kane, a tall and lanky bearded man who sported tattoos, apparently had many faces. He was kind and thoughtful to some. Tough to others. The kind face was what he showed me on our many chats on life when I bumped into him at our local Corner Store or walking along Paseo del Mar, a roadway along the ocean.
I'm sure he was not that kind man with the tough blue collar crowd he worked with or he wouldn't have survived as one of their leaders or earned the respect he received.
I'm sure he was not that man when he gunned down Stamper, who left behind three grown children, Evelyn the oldest, Robert, and Anthony Jordan, all in their 20s. They now are left with a horrendous mess of pain and cruel hurt that will never fully mend and with a raging beast called grief.
While I did not know Stamper, who was born and raised here, those who did say she was one of the kindest woman they'd ever known. She also left behind her father, brother and many cousins, aunts, uncles and scores of friends.
"She was absolutely the sweetest, most gentle person," said Mona Sutton, who co-owns the Omelette and Waffle Shop with Leslie Jones, adding Stamper worked a short stint at their restaurant becoming close friends with many of their waitresses and for many years at the San Pedro Brewing Company. "She was a fixture here (in the community). I can't even get over it."
On her face book page, Sutton wrote: "So sad that such a sweet, gentle woman's life had to end in such a violent heinous way. Murdered in the town she grew up, worked and raised her children in. Her children need our support."
A heavily packed memorial service was held for Stamper on Saturday.
The Stamper family is not blaming O'Kane's children, Honor and Andrew, for what happened, a family friend said. But both families will go through a swath of emotions that are so unreasonable as they grieve that no one knows what bizarre twists of sentiments they will pilot through, a hazy fog of disbelief, torment and anger.
I thank God that Stamper's family is willing to try not to blame O'Kane's children, because this community can be divisive and cruel when it wants to be. Blaming two innocent kids is not what we need to do. O'Kane's children already know what nature's cruelty means and now they must live here facing residents knowing fully what their father has done.
Honor, who is in her late teens, and Andrew, an iron worker in his early 20s, already learned what heartbreak meant when they lost their mother, Maggie, to cancer in 2004. It seared the family deeply, riddling them with scars that only other families who've faced this crises can understand.
Now, Honor and Andrew are facing a new sea of sorrow they have to reckon with. They apparently had come home to celebrate their father's 55th birthday that night and found instead a bevy of police cars and blaring lights.
I kept asking myself how could O'Kane do this to his kids, leave them in this mess, a muck so disturbing that it will take them years, perhaps their lifetimes, to crawl out of? Perhaps, and very likely, this will be the same for the Stampers too.
I also know how union workers might elevate O'Kane's reputation, forgetting that he killed a woman who grew up here and left behind a slew of loved ones. And how others will call O'Kane a murderer when his kids might be standing there or read it as one Daily Breeze reader posted it on a comment section in the newspaper. Let's not even mention what can go on face book where people can say anything anonymously and recklessly and not care who gets hurt.
I can appeal and ask for people to refrain and be sensitive to those around them in this tragic and horrific incident. Having traveled down this road before, I have my doubts that they will. When asked to do so, it just seems to drive some into a furious shark frenzy to post even nastier words and do it with great pleasure.
We can all agree on one thing I suppose. This shooting didn't have to happen and these two people should be here now, alive and with their families today, getting up to brush their teeth in the morning, witness another sunrise, see the powder blue skies buffeted with clouds, celebrate more birthdays and watch their grand kids arrive one by one.
They should be here. But they are not. It just took a few dreary minutes, a horrible decision and a gun to erase their lives and leave dozens of shredded hearts scattered to the winds.
As I turned the corner in my car, I became more incensed even though I knew it made no sense. The emotion was clinging to me like an unwanted shadow, not doing anyone any good, especially me. Perhaps it was because the last time I saw Honor she was so excited about life. She was mapping out her future. She was gleaming with happiness that even her cute freckles glowed.
After I spotted Stamper's shrine, I looked over at the O'Kane household perched on a hilly street draped with lacey fichus trees. An old, black jalopy, obviously not working, sat in the driveway. And then I saw a set of peacocks, doing something I've never seen the fowls do before, even though I have them roosting in my yard on a daily basis.
A male and female sat on the jalopy's shady roof top, kissing, crooning, nurturing each other -- just two giant lovebirds oblivious to anything else going on in the world like a young couple kissing passionately, romantically on a public street, each moment sweet and dripping with love as though two beings folded into one.
I could barely move and just sat there watching. A gentle peacefulness descended on me. I no longer felt angry. It left me with this: we have not one family that has been devastated in this town, but two. Both families are victims.
All the rest of us can do is try and reach out and grab few pieces of their tattered hearts and pull them back in from the winds.