Sometimes when Kirsten Perkinson drives past the Harveys' former home, she scans the yard for reminders of the family of four.
In the spring, she looks for lilies and forsythia bushes that Bryan and Kathryn Harvey put in years ago, even though she knows the home on West 31st Street in Richmond's Woodland Heights no longer belongs to her friends.
Other times, Perkinson avoids passing the house altogether, keeping her distance from the scene of a horrific crime that claimed the lives of an entire family.
"It's very hard because you have to move on in life, you have to keep going — that's what life is about," Perkinson said. "And I have not allowed this thing to cripple me, and yet it's heartbreaking, and it will be with me for the rest of my life."
Five years ago today, musician Bryan Harvey, 49, his wife Kathryn, 39, and their daughters Stella, 9, and Ruby, 4, were found murdered in their burning home. They had been planning to have a New Year's Day party that afternoon.
Ricky Javon Gray, who confessed to killing the Harveys, was convicted of capital murder and awaits execution. His accomplice and nephew, Ray Dandridge, is serving a life sentence. The deaths were part of a killing rampage carried out by Gray and Dandridge.
On Jan. 6, five days after the Harvey killings, police found the bodies of Ashley Baskerville, 21; her mother, Mary Baskerville Tucker, 47; and her husband Percyell Tucker, 55, in their home on East Broad Rock Road in South Richmond. Gray and Dandridge had suffocated them. The next day, Gray and Dandridge were arrested in Philadelphia.
Ashley Baskerville knew Gray and Dandridge and had served as a lookout when Gray killed the Harveys, authorities said.
The Harveys were killed on the same day two other people were killed in an unrelated crime, making for a six-homicide New Year's Day that is believed to be the deadliest day in Richmond in at least 15 years.
Perkinson was one of the last people to see Kathryn and Stella alive. A few hours before firefighters discovered the bodies, Perkinson dropped Stella off at her home from a slumber party and spoke briefly to Kathryn, not knowing Gray and Dandridge were inside.
Gray has said that he and Dandridge were looking for someone to rob and chose the Harvey home because a door was open.
Perkinson said she often thinks about what it would have been like to watch Stella and Ruby grow up alongside her own daughters. As a way to commemorate the family, Perkinson is involved in a project to set up an outdoor musical classroom at William Fox Elementary School through the Harvey family endowment. Stella was a student at Fox.
In September, the city dedicated a bridge to the family at Forest Hill Park, a place the family loved to visit. A 2-ton granite marker on the north side of the bridge features a bronze plaque with an inscription memorializing the Harvey family and a self-taken family portrait cast in bronze relief. Nearly 200 people attended its unveiling.
"The bridge and dedication were beautiful," said Bryan Harvey's sister, Paige Harvey.
The Harvey family endowment and a memorial fund established by the Carytown Merchants Association have supported art, music and other programs for children. Bryan was a well-known musician in the Richmond area, playing in the bands House of Freaks and NRG KRYSYS. He and his wife were supportive of local artists.
Frances Daniel, a member of the board of the Carytown Merchants Association, said that the organization's memorial fund is having window boxes made by local artists and placed at World of Mirth, a gift shop in Carytown that Kathryn Harvey co-owned. The fund also is donating a Baldwin studio piano to a Richmond school and having four new seats installed at the Byrd Theatre. Each seat will be named for one of the Harveys.
"Life goes on, you have to deal with it," Paige Harvey said. "You deal as well as you can — missing them every day."
She said that those closest to her brother and his family have gotten together every New Year's Day since the tragedy, and they planned to continue the tradition today.
Paige Harvey pondered why it seems that tragedy so often strikes families during the holidays.
"New Year's Day is obviously very difficult for us," she said. "They're not here to celebrate."
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Perkinson recalls that Kathryn appeared nervous on New Year's Day 2006 when Perkinson arrived with one of her daughters to return Stella from a slumber party.
Perkinson's daughter started to follow Stella downstairs to the basement, but Kathryn blocked her path.
Perkinson remembers asking Kathryn what was wrong because she looked pale. Kathryn replied she wasn't feeling well and held one of her hands like a gun to the side of her head and moved it in a circular motion, similar to a gesture a child might use to indicate that someone is crazy.
That gesture still haunts Perkinson, who will never know whether Kathryn was trying to tell her something. At the time, Perkinson thought her friend was behaving oddly but figured she was just stressed.
Perkinson asked Kathryn if she could do anything for her and offered to come back over early before the Harveys' party. Kathryn told her that would be good.
"I believe she saved our lives," Perkinson said.
Sometime later, the Harveys were bound in the basement. Gray has said he cut their throats and bludgeoned them with a hammer, then set the house on fire.
Perkinson said she likes to think that her presence at the home gave Kathryn some hope.
"I'm glad that I was there, that I could talk to her for a minute," she said. "I'm sorry that I couldn't have picked something up from her. I can't beat myself up about that."
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Perkinson testified at Gray's trial. To steel herself to take the witness stand, she was reading Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," the 1960s book that chronicles the murder of another family of four.
"I just absolutely felt I had to tell that jury how sweet and kind and good they were," she said. "I had to be the strongest I ever was."
Before the murders, Perkinson said she was against the death penalty, but the killings left her with unresolved feelings. "I was born in 1963 — I'm a peace-loving throwback," she said.
"It confused me — it was the most difficult thing to face," she said. "What happened, what they did. How you could do such a thing — deliberately hurt people in that way?"
Gray's case is still in the appeals process. It is typical for a death sentence in Virginia to be stalled for five years or longer.
Still, one of the attorneys who prosecuted Gray is ready for him to die.
"The bottom line is, it's been five years, and despite everyone's best efforts, he still hasn't been executed, and that's frustrating to me," said Richmond Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Learned Barry. "I don't think we can really say the case is over until he's executed."
The brutal crime scene forced tears into the eyes of some firefighters and law-enforcement officers.
Jeffrey Everhart, one of the attorneys who represented Gray at trial, said it is hard to believe five years have passed. And yet it also seems like the tragedy happened long ago, he said.
"That case is just ... that was a rough case — that's all there is to it," he said. "The worst thing about that case, obviously, was those children. That was the most horrific part of that case."
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Paige Harvey said it has become easier for people to talk about the good times they shared with Bryan, Kathryn, Stella and Ruby.
Perkinson agrees that it has gotten easier, but it's still hard sometimes.
"It's just like recalling any comment that someone made," Perkinson said. "It's just that these people were violently murdered. That's the caveat to everything. That's the elephant in the room.
"But really, before that, they weren't murdered; they were just normal people like us. Sometimes you still find yourself sort of editing yourself."
Some residents of Woodland Heights still feel the sting of the tragedy, as though it happened only a few months ago, said neighbor J.B. Gregg.
Another neighbor, Stephen Tarrant, who saw the bodies carried from the home after the fire, vividly recalls a toy school bus someone placed outside the Harveys' home after the killings.
"It broke me up every time I saw it," Tarrant said. "It still undoes me."
Gregg said the deaths prompted him to establish a neighborhood-watch program in Woodland Heights, partly to make him feel less helpless and to help him cope.
"You could even say I was being selfish, but at the same time, it helped a lot of people," he said. "It just seems like it happened last January — it's still that fresh in my memory."