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Wilcox’s spirit inspires parents

Doug Mattson
John HartAmanda and Nick Wilcox stand in the bedroom of their daughter, Laura, slain in last year's shootings at the HEW building. The bedroom hasn't been touched since then.
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Two days before she died, Laura Wilcox considered writing the Nevada County Board of Supervisors about conditions at the Department of Behavioral Health Services.

Clients were ignored or treated rudely, the building was cold and drafty, and key decision-makers should know about it, she told her parents, Nick and Amanda.

“You do that, Laura! You write a letter!” Amanda told her.

She likely would have. Nineteen years old and energetic, she sprung from a Quaker faith that encourages social activism.

But Wilcox, a temporary receptionist at Behavioral Health while on holiday break from college, was among three people killed in the Jan. 10, 2001, shooting spree that left two others wounded.

The gunman was allegedly Scott Harlan Thorpe, a Behavioral Health client at the time.

Wilcox’s parents have spent the year since fighting for causes their daughter espoused – mental-health care and gun control. Both played roles in her death, they’re convinced from reading police reports, and working on those issues honors her memory.

“It’s also an empowering experience,” Nick Wilcox said in a November interview at his Penn Valley home. “In some sense you feel like the phoenix rising from the ashes.”

“She was out to change the world, and I know she’s right behind us on this,” Amanda Wilcox said. “She’d be glad we’re doing this.”

The couple has been to Sacramento numerous times, talking with lawmakers about mental health and gun control. They’re spotlighting the issues in a march Saturday from Lyon’s Restaurant to the Behavior Health building.

They’ve also researched their daughter’s slaying.

Eleven of the 12 guns found in Thorpe’s Smartville house weren’t registered to him, the couple learned from the Sheriff’s Office. The remaining gun, a semiautomatic pistol registered to Thorpe, was the alleged murder weapon. But Nick Wilcox said any one of the weapons could have been used.

It’s information the Wilcoxes hope to use to bolster possible gun-access legislation by Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, whose son was fatally shot.

“Criminals now find it more difficult to purchase guns legally, so they turn more to family and friends,” Nick Wilcox said. “If you’re a responsible owner, this law shouldn’t affect you.”

The Wilcoxes greeted hundreds of gun owners in a silent vigil at last February’s gun show at the county fairgrounds. They later sought a ban on future shows there – with Nick Wilcox calling gun shows “notorious” for illegal gun transfers – but the fair board last month voted 8-1 for the status quo.

On mental health, the Wilcoxes have backed a bill to force outpatient treatment on severely ill mental patients who refuse it.

Named “Laura’s Law,” it goes before the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee this spring, said Nancy Westergaard, consultant to the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Helen Thomson, D-Davis.

“Quite honestly, the political stuff is an expression of anger,” said Nick Wilcox.

While their activism has provided a healthy outlet, their personal lives have been transformed.

“Every relationship in our life has changed – with our family, with our friends and with Laura, obviously,” Amanda Wilcox said. “Every single facet of our life is impacted, and it dominates everything.”

She finds herself fretting more about their two sons – Caleb, 17, and Nathan, 14 – just as they’re trying to spread their wings. She recently dreaded the worst when they arrived a few minutes late from stopping for fast food.

Emotionally, Nick Wilcox said, Laura’s death has been like having “a limb ripped off,” without the healing ever taking hold.

He sometimes becomes disheartened when acquaintances – fearing they might offend – won’t discuss the tragedy.

“It’s really important to hear your child’s name,” he said, “because to pretend she doesn’t exist kills her every day, over and over again.”

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