The Effects of Chet’s Death

THIS IS MY OWN PERSONAL LETTER TO THE PAROLE BOARD ON THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS MURDER:

State Board of Pardons and Paroles
Office of Victim Services
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, GA 30334
Fax #: (404) 654-6377

March 21, 2012

RE: Ronald Lupez Freeman
EF-308788

Dear Parole Board Members:

Twenty years ago tonight, my 16 year old brother, Chet Planchard, was shot and killed by Ronald Freeman. Chet was working an after school part-time job at Burger King in Marietta, GA. It was a Saturday night. Ronald Freeman went to the Burger King with a gun and the experience of already murdering two other people in store robberies. My brother Chet was working the drive through window but his coworker Farzana asked him to cover the register at the counter for a moment. Even with two customers behind him and Farzana returning behind the counter, Ronald Freeman shot and killed Chet without any warning or demand for money. Chet was still holding the two dollars Freeman had given him to make change from the purchase. He also had a few toys usually found in Burger King child meals in his pocket. He was just a kid, a sophomore in high school. He didn’t even know what he wanted to be in life yet.

I was 18 years old and a Freshman in college at Emory University when Chet died. We were not quite 2 years apart in age. Chet was my best friend. When we were small, we shared a bedroom. Two twin beds with 1970’s green and yellow flowery bedspreads. Even when we moved to a bigger house, we still wanted to share a room. We played together, laughed together, cried together. I still have a recording he made for me singing happy birthday when I turned thirteen. Of course, there were times when we got on each others’ nerves and argued like all siblings, but when I was seventeen years old and Chet was fifteen, we rediscovered each other as best friends. We hung out in the same social circles and even double dated to the prom. We played together, laughed together, cried together. We grew up together. Little did I know that I’d only have childhood years to make a lifetime of memories. A few weeks before he died, I shared with him that I had been date raped at college. He cried with me on the phone. The last thing he told me the day before he died was “I love you, Amanda.” This was the kind of 16 year old kid that Chet was. Sensitive, caring, hard working, funny, friends with everyone. He would have been a great man if he had been allowed the chance to grow up.

I remember the night he was murdered with a detail only trauma can bring. My college roommate and I were hanging out with our friends at the dorm next to ours. My roommate Claire came back from going to our room to change clothes and told me that my mom had left an urgent message. I called her back and she asked me where I was. I thought she was just being over-protective. I put my roommate on the phone so my mom would know I wasn’t at a boy’s room alone. My mother thought it was best to tell someone who was with me first, in case I fell apart. I saw Claire’s face and I knew something horrible had happened. When my mother told me, I fell to the floor in the hallway of the boys freshman dorm at Emory. I got a ride home from a friend and I slept in between my parents in their room. I don’t know if any of us really slept. I listened to my mom weeping. I cried until I thought I had no more tears but there were always more.

For years I used to sit on his bed and spray his cologne with my eyes closed trying to feel his presence. I contacted psychics and medians. I sat at the cemetery reading to him and playing music. I used to wish I would die too so that I could be with him again. I spent two weeks in the hospital getting treatment for depression. I ached so badly for so long. Years have passed. I graduated from college despite going to trial after trial. They presented the evidence from Chet’s case in the other trials as a similar transaction. My mother and I attended all of them. I got my Masters degree in Social Work and I have dedicated my life to Victim Advocacy. I am blessed to have the kind of job where I can really change lives, but Chet’s murder has changed who I am fundamentally. It defines me. There is something quite sad about that. Chet would be turning 37 in May. I remember the 2009 anniversary when he had been dead longer than he had lived. The kick in the stomach that I felt for that is indescribable. In many ways my life stopped that Saturday night when Ronald Freeman pulled that trigger. I’m almost 39 years old. I’ve never married and I don’t have children. I often worry that I have been irrevocably damaged by this traumatic loss. I pray not.

My family was also damaged. My father escaped into alcoholism and died in January 2010 at the age of 65 from liver failure. My mother’s health isn’t great and she has now suffered another great loss with the death of her husband. My sister has brought her children to the cemetery every Christmas eve since they were born where we still light a battery operated tree, sing a carol and say a prayer for Chet. When my nephew was young he asked if we could dig him back up and give him some water so he could be alive again. It has changed us all.

I still can’t believe someone can kill 4 people (including the man who was in a coma and died a few years later) and be eligible for parole. I will spend my life fighting his parole and galvanizing the public. I don’t want to spend my life doing that, but I will. I will do that for my sweet brother Chet who I still ache for today.

-Amanda Planchard
Sister of Chet Planchard