How do you re-create the story of someone who died much too suddenly, leaving a grieving family and friends . . . especially someone who disappeared and was apparently murdered?
Consider the case of Summer Shipp.
I joined her family and friends this week in listening to testimony in the murder trial of Jeffrey Sauerbry, accused killer of Summer. It was a high profile case, even though it had almost been lost in the cold case files of the Independence Police Department since Summer disappeared while doing door to door market research back in December of 2004.
Summer’s daughter, Brandy Shipp Rogge, kept the case alive by seeking the help of such national notables as Nancy Grace and Montel Williams in the search for clues to her mysterious disappearance. She quit her jobs and spent most of her savings in undertaking a full time search for her dear mother.
The search ended in 2007 when two fishermen on the Little Blue River, only a 13 minute drive from where Summer was last seen, found parts of her body and items presumed to be hers. Summer was no longer missing. But the mystery was by no means solved.
And, despite testimony this week from a man who claimed to have listened to Jeffrey Sauerbry confess to her brutal murder, an Independence jury found the accused man (who is already serving a life sentence without chance of parole in another murder case) not guilty of Summer’s murder. There was not enough evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he had committed the heinous crime.
So the challenge now becomes how to fashion a fitting memorial to Summer’s memory as some form of consolation to her family and friends.
The only way to do this monumental but crucial task is through the stories her friends and family will tell of her. Summer Shipp’s contagious smile lit up the billboards plastered all over Kansas City back in 2004 and 2005 in an attempt to find her. She was that full of magnetism and a joy of life.
As I attempt to do justice to Summer’s memory in the next few months of writing her memoir, the stories her friends and family retell make me feel like I missed a lot in not knowing her in life. Her friend Brian told me over a lunch break during Wednesday’s trial how she almost exasperated her friends by always insisting they notice a beautiful sunset. Her daughter even got a little tired of her mother literally making her stop to smell the roses in her front yard every time she came to her house.
Brian told another story about how Summer loved going to movies with her friends, even after she no longer owned the Bijou Theater in Westport.
“She would pop a bunch of popcorn, put it down her shirt and pretend to be pregnant and then share the popcorn with all of us during the movie.”
What a fun-loving woman! What a joy it will be to discover her life and stories in writing her memoir.
Summer Shipp was so much more than a murder victim. Even now she will live on in the memories. And that’s why it is so crucial for each one of us to record our stanzas as we live them. We don’t know when we will no longer be alive to sing them.