Symbols of a tragic time

May 03, 2000

Jenifer Ragland

o7 A playground. A tree. A wall. A plaque. A lawsuit.

Alone, they are simple, everyday things. The trivial, the inanimate, the


But together, they can forge a powerful story.

A story of innocence. Of unthinkable tragedy. Of a suffering community's

swift resolve to recover and rebuild. Of the healing and celebration of


life that eventually comes. And of the slap of cold, hard reality once


A year ago today, at 5:15 p.m., a man drove his brown 1967 Cadillac

through a chain-link fence that separated Santa Ana Avenue from about 30

preschoolers at the Southcoast Early Childhood Learning Center. The car

careened into the playground, running over children before smashing into

a tree.

Two children, 3-year-old Brandon Wiener and 4-year-old Sierra Soto, were

killed. Police said the driver, Santa Ana resident Steven Allen Abrams,

told them he did it on purpose, with the specific intent of "executing"

innocent children.

While Abrams makes his way through the legal system -- his case has yet

to go to trial and his attorneys are weighing a possible insanity plea --

five symbols remain of that sad afternoon last May.


The Playground

It looked like any other tot lot. A sandbox. A dollhouse. A colorful

jungle gym resembling a castle. Though the yard was teeming with young

life, thousands of people drove by it every day, probably not giving it a

second thought.

The children at the day-care center loved the playground. They escaped

their classrooms and played there at least twice a day, squealing with

delight as they chased each other and engaged in games such as tag and


Then, in a split second -- the time it takes a car to burst through a

fence -- everything changed. The children's gleeful sounds were replaced

by horrific screams. Their once-safe haven invaded by darkness.

As the community soaked in the tragedy and stepped up to help, the

playground, day by day, was transformed -- the fence torn down, the

sandbox moved, new donated equipment erected. It changed from a reminder

of the nightmarish scene to one that had regained some sense of normalcy.

A year later, it has the unique quality of being similar enough to be a

reminder of the tragedy, but different enough to make it bearable.

"I don't think I could have worked out on the yard if it was the same,"

said Carrie McCluskey, assistant director at the preschool. "Because it's

different, it's inviting."

The Tree

It was one of the biggest heroes that day.

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