Emotional reactions in the courtroom on April 9 (when the guilty verdict was read in the recent capital murder trial) revealed the sense of relief among some of those who knew Bill Hammit and Sandra Garcia of Clegg, who ran the Camco Store and Camco Saltwater Transport.
Unfortunately, because of the tragic way that Bill and Sandra’s lives ended — days before Christmas 2015 and a week before the birth of another grandchild, the couple will be remembered at least in part — especially by those who did not know them — as victims.
They deserve so much more.
Bill and Sandra leave behind a legacy of love and family. I know their loss will never be replaced by those who cared about them, but what their loved ones should realize and cherish is that Bill and Sandra live on through them. The way their lives were brutally taken from them on the night of Dec. 22, 2015, was senseless and terrible. But the couple’s lives were very meaningful.
That much was clear in the way friends and family remembered them during the trial of the person who was convicted of ending Bill and Sandra’s lives.
Janis Gilliam, a retired schoolteacher, knew Sandra as a good friend.
“They were good friends of a lot of people,” Janis recalled. “Bill and Sandra were great at getting people in the community together.”
She recalled Bill being in a joyful mood on the night she last saw him and recalled that Sandra — who routinely woke up well before sunrise — was tired. They talked about Christmas plans and how Bill and Sandra were going to visit Janis on Christmas Eve.
Although some in Bill and Sandra’s family said they were suspicious of J.C. McLelland, a man who worked with and for Bill and Sandra, the three had plans to go celebrate an early Christmas dinner on Dec. 23, 2015. Clearly, Bill and Sandra had welcomed J.C. into their home, and any ill feelings that might have existed between them appeared to be water under the bridge.
“They were good people,” J.C. recalled, saying that they helped him and he helped them when he could. “They would have helped anybody,” he added.
Ronald Frazier, who worked for J.C. and got to know Bill and Sandra, also spoke highly of them.
“Bill and Sandra treated J.C. like family, and treated me like I was their kid,” Ronald said. “I didn’t know anybody who would want to hurt them, they were such good people.”
Jamie Kirby, who is married to Bill’s daughter Audrey, described Bill as a generous man but one who was also careful with his money. He recalled that Bill and Sandra were laughing and happy the last time he saw them.
Corey Priddy, the husband of Sandra’s daughter, Petina Rivera, talked about how he worked hard to earn Bill and Sandra’s trust, and to prove himself to them.
“They were like my best friends — like a second mom and dad,” Corey said.
On Dec. 22, 2015, Bill and Corey worked together, and Corey recalled that Bill was in an especially good mood.
“It was probably one of the best days I’ve ever been around that man,” Corey said. “He was just laughing, joking around. He was drawing a caricature of me.”
Petina Rivera described Sandra not just as a loving mother, but as her best friend, someone she was frequently called and texted and who looked out for her, making sure she got the kids up and ready for school.
The businesses Bill and Sandra built and shepherded are still a strong part of the community today, and the family’s involvement in those businesses continues.
The grandchildren that knew Bill and Sandra — and those who never got the opportunity to meet them — should remember Bill and Sandra as wonderful, loving and caring people — not just to family but to friends, and even to some people that many might have turned their backs on.
Bill and Sandra deserve to be known as devoted family members, cherished friends and valued residents of Live Oak County, not as victims. What happened to them on Dec. 22, 2015, was only a small — but unfortunately, also towering — part of their lives.
There’s no way to know for sure what Bill and Sandra, looking down from heaven, would say to those who care about them. But just based on the small glimpses of their lives from friends and family, one can imagine what they might say.
I can envision Bill and Sandra telling those who care about them to let go of any hate and bitterness people might have about the one who treated them so wrongly, and just to remember their love and focus on the good times, that they are thankful and blessed for being part of their lives, and to share love with other people and make the best of life — because you never know how short it can be.
Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 361-786-3022.