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Robert and Charlotte Hullinger fondly recall their daughter Lisa

Robert and Charlotte Hullinger fondly recall their daughter Lisa

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CINCINNATI - Lisa Hullinger would be 45 now.

She possibly would have had a career in international business; she possibly would be a member of a tennis club or an orchestra; and she possibly would have a family and grandchildren for her parents, the Rev. Robert and Charlotte Hullinger.

But her death 26 years ago on Saturday after a brutal attack by her ex-boyfriend in Germany suspended those possibilities forever.

"For me, she'll always be 19," Robert said Sept. 18 in their 1930s-era brick home on a quiet street. "Lisa didn't graduate, she didn't get to drive a car. She wanted to, but never got around to it," the retired Lutheran minister said.

For the past six years, Sept. 25 has become a national day of mourning for the Hullingers and thousands of others to mark their losses - the death of a child being the hardest grief to bear - at community events and personal vigils sponsored by Parents of Murdered Children (POMC). (See related story)

That day has become a day of mourning for children who have been murdered, said Nancy Ruhe, executive director of the Cincinnati-based POMC, which was founded by the Hullingers as an after-effect of coping with their grief.

Charlotte, yearning for support, said she met a Catholic priest later in 1978 who put them in touch with other people in a support group for widows. "It was not begun as a national group, it was begun to find help for me," she said.

Cincinnati and Columbus newspapers wrote stories about the Hullingers. People Magazine saw those and wrote about them, more media coverage ensued, and the Hullingers began to help the children murdered in the 1980 crime wave in Atlanta. Charlotte converted Lisa's bedroom into an office, more people called after seeing the Hullingers on national talk shows, and they finally opened the office in downtown Cincinnati.

POMC now has about 80 chapters and 200,000 members, Ruhe said.

It charters local groups, including the one formed in 2003 in Casper, and requires them to meet as a support group once a month in a location other than a person's house, she said.

The national and local organizations, Ruhe said, have started programs including accompanying people to court.

POMC also offers speakers, victims rights programs, crisis intervention, a program to intervene if a murderer is up for parole, a "second opinion" program of experts to review cold cases, a murder response team that went to Oklahoma City after the April 1995 bombing, a "murder wall" that has 22 panels with 120 names each on them, and an annual "Lisa Hullinger Award" for an outstanding survivor who has reached out to others.

The group does not lobby, Ruhe said.

It believes its main mission should be support for those who are grieving, she and the Hullingers said.

The Hullingers themselves were careful to note that dealing with grief should be to focus on the life of the child, not the event that took his or her life.

"We want to be healed people," Charlotte said.

'Perfect' life

The Hullingers don't brag about Lisa, just state facts.

"She was perfect," Robert said.

Lisa was interested in people, played tennis, was first violinist in the Cincinnati Youth Symphony, worshiped God with her friends in the Campus Christian Fellowship at Miami University, made her own clothes, loved learning and had a knack for languages, her parents said.

Her high-spirited curiosity inspired her to sign up for a foreign exchange program during her 1975-76 senior year at Walnut Hills High School where she was a straight-A student, Charlotte said.

"The first time she came back from Germany, she spoke English with a German accent," Robert said.

During her first year at Miami, Lisa was admitted to a foreign language program for her sophomore year.

Meanwhile, in February 1978, she broke up with DePaul University student and boyfriend William Coday, who also had been accepted into the same program, the Hullingers said.

Shortly after Lisa moved in with her host family in Hamburg in the summer of 1978, the father in that family died,

She wrote to her parents about her host family's loss: "'I wouldn't know what it would be like to lose somebody you've lived with for so many years,'" Bob said.

Only days later, on Sept. 12, Coday beat Lisa with a hammer.

She remained in a coma until she died on Sept. 25.

The family's suffering was deep and profound, and the Hullingers learned of the long-term caustic effects of murder that go far beyond the victim, they said.

"It really affects so many people," Charlotte said.

Three months later, at Christmas, Charlotte and younger daughter Jenny opened presents of hand-made robes, Charlotte said.

Jenny felt enormous guilt that she would be older than Lisa, Bob said.

Son Robert, 16 at the time, later nearly flunked out of school, got in car accidents, and talked about driving and crashing with the entire family, Charlotte said.

The son kept many of his feelings to himself for 16 years, and painfully came to grips with his grief after he had children of his own, Bob said.

They found that counselors often didn't know how to help, people would shun them, or somehow expect that the grief would end after a few months, the Hullingers said.

Problems for the survivors include suicide, alcohol and other drug abuse, divorce, violence, and post-traumatic stress syndrome, Charlotte said.

While the survivors share a common grief, they don't share common ways of dealing with it, Charlotte said.

For example, some members of one family may want to attend the trial of a murderer, while others will avoid it, she said.

"There are more victims in this crime than the one who did not survive," Charlotte said.

Despite the pain, people can help the survivors even if only by their presence, she and Bob said.

"There's really nothing you can say that will take away the pain," Bob said. "But they'll remember that you were there."

Reporter Tom Morton can be reached at (307) 266-0592 or at tom.morton@casperstartribune.net.

Killer's fate

William Coday was convicted of manslaughter in a German court for Lisa Hullinger's death and served 18 months.

After Coday's release, he returned to the United States; married and divorced an Iranian woman, then married and legally separated from an Indian woman. He committed acts of violence against both women, according to a report from CourtTV.com.

He attended Washington University in St. Louis; earned a law degree and a library science degree, and eventually he moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he headed the international languages collection at the Broward County Library, according to Court TV.

In Florida, he met Gloria Gomez while separated from his second wife. Gomez, is a native of Colombia, according to the Court TV. After dating and living with him for a while, Gomez moved out and began dating another man, according to Court TV.

In a jealous rage, Coday beat her to death with a hammer in July 1997, fled to Paris, and retuned to the United States in October.

Gomez's family was so poor that her parents could not attend Coday's trial, Robert and Charlotte Hullinger said. The Hullingers attended the trial, but the story of Coday and Lisa could not be admitted as evidence during the trial or the sentencing phase, Robert Hullinger said.

He was convicted of murder, and was sentenced death in June 2002.

Coday is now on death row in a Florida prison.

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