POULSBO — Former Poulsbo resident Barbara Parker-Waaga wears a button bearing a picture of her daughter Tracy wherever she goes.
Tracy, she said, was a loving and forgiving person.
Tracy was a 4-H member who had just returned from the Kitsap County Fair having won awards and met almost everyone there.
Tracy volunteered at Martha & Mary where she called everyone “grandma” or “grandpa.”
Tracy had a bright future ahead of her.
Although she still has difficulty telling the story of the 16-year-old’s disappearance and murder, Parker-Waaga said she hopes the button will motivate people to ask her about her daughter. Now,
more than ever, Parker-Waaga said
her daughter’s life needs to be remembered.
“It humanizes her,” Parker-Waaga said, pointing to the cherubic teenager with the bright smile on the button. “She’s not just blood, hair and evidence. She was a person, a living community person, that everybody loved. She just liked everybody and that ended up being to her detriment. She thought people were all good, and you know what most people are good, we’ve had some great support from people in the community over the years.”
On Sept. 16, 1986, Tracy Parker went missing, having been last seen horseback riding at a neighbor’s home. More than two weeks after her disappearance, her body was found. She had been raped and bludgeoned to death. Parker-Waaga said the incident was a huge shock to the Poulsbo community, which at the time only had a population of about 3,500 people.
“We all thought we lived in a safe little community where we knew our neighbors, kept our doors unlocked,” Parker-Waaga said, noting that her children used to ride their bikes to the Olympics and to Keyport by themselves in those days. “It was a different era and I’m sorry to say that things got worse. Nobody much knew anybody who had been murdered in those days and I’m sorry to say that most everybody knows somebody and it’s probably going to be worse than that in the next few years.”
Almost immediately after discovering Parker’s clothing on Sept. 22, 1986 and then her body on Sept. 30, carpenter Brian Keith Lord was arrested in connection with the death. Lord had been doing work on the home where Parker was last seen riding horses, and several reports of suspicious behavior from those close to Lord led authorities to find evidence linking him to the crime.
In a 1987 trial, Lord was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
In the appeals process, Lord’s death sentence was later overturned. The appeals finally reached the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California in 1999 where the entire case was overturned. The judge based the decision on the existence of three witnesses, schoolmates of Parker who claimed they saw her alive the day after Lord allegedly killed the teen, which Lord’s defense team ignored during the 1987 trial.
After 17 years of grieving her daughter’s death, Parker-Waaga now says she feels let down by the system she thought was going to help her find closure.
“We expected that the justice system would work and we went for the death penalty,” Parker-Waaga recalled. “The justice system did work to the extent that we did get the death penalty but the system, the judicial system I call it anymore not the justice system, has let us down over the years in the appeals system. The death penalty people have so many rights, they have so many more rights, they have way more rights than the victims.”
On Feb. 26, 2003, Parker-Waaga, now a Port Hadlock resident, stepped into the courtroom once again as Lord’s retrial began.
The evidence, mostly circumstantial, remains the same and Lord still claims his innocence. New on the table are the three men, then teens, who will be called to testify. Also new, the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s office is no longer asking for the death penalty, instead the requested sentence is life without parole.
“One of the reasons we took the death penalty away was had he got the death penalty again, which he probably would have, we’d have had the same thing starting all over again and it was too many appeals,” Parker-Waaga explained, noting that Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge’s office has been extremely helpful to the family. “We could have gone through this another 20 years and the thought of that just terrifies us. And he wins in a way, he just keeps putting our life on hold.”
Another similar element to the current Lord trial is the community support. Family friends, old teachers and community acquaintances and even some of Tracy’s old schoolmates have shown up to the courtroom.
More than 700 people showed up to the girl’s 1986 funeral, and Parker-Waaga said old friends from Poulsbo frequently ask her about the trial. She said she, her surviving children, her ex-husband and the whole family appreciate seeing familiar faces as they sit through the proceedings four days a week from 9 a.m. to almost 5 p.m. because it helps them live through the trauma of reliving the past.
“We still get about 15 a day are coming and I think some of them stay back because they think they they’re being nosy but it’s very important to represent her as a human being, a real person,” Parker-Waaga explained. “So I would urge any friends or interested parties to come to court this trial is scheduled to last three months.”