A Month After Las Vegas Shooting, New Reality Sets in for Southern California Family
Husband Bob Patterson (L), and his children: Brooke, Robert and Amber. They hold a photograph of Lisa Patterson in Lomita, California, on Oct. 30, 2017. Lisa was killed in the Oct. 1 shooting attack in Las Vegas. (Dan Tuffs/KPCC)
For more than 20 years, Bob Patterson spent his days driving to flooring jobs around South Bay in Los Angeles County, with a ready smile and obvious joy in his work.
But for the last month he has not picked up a saw or hammer. His days are now spent raising his family on his own, and trying to keep himself together.
Lisa Patterson -- his wife, his best friend, the person who kept the trains running -- is gone, lost in one of the country's deadliest shootings.
She and Bob have raised three kids in Lomita. Their eldest, Amber, has left college to be with the family and to help look after the youngest, Brooke, who is 7. In between is 16-year-old Robert, named after his dad, but especially bonded with his mother.
Even in his grief, Bob is as effusive as he ever was with the revolving door of friends who come with food and hugs every day -- but he acknowledges that inside he's struggling.
"My kids are motherless," Bob said. "That's probably the hardest thing for me."
Lisa took Brooke to and from school, but now it's Bob's job. Peering into her classroom during school pickup, he spots his daughter in a pink-and-white striped shirt.
"Brookie, you ready, babe?" Bob calls out.
Lisa, her husband said, really did it all. She coached softball and led the school PTA. She volunteered at church. She took care of her live-in mother-in-law, who has Parkinson's.
She ran her husband’s flooring business, and kept all his books.
"I hadn’t paid a bill for 25 years," Bob said, softly laughing. "I’m still trying to figure it out. She would always say we were doomed if she ever passed away. And now it’s coming to light."
Bob and Lisa never shied away from talking about death. They both had lost close relatives, including siblings. But Bob said they were so grateful for the lives they had together that, if death were to strike one of them, there'd be no regrets.
It was 28 years ago he fell for Lisa, drawn to her irreverent humor, kindness and beauty. Several years after meeting, he got baptized and became Catholic, the faith she'd been raised in.
Three kids later, they were as romantic as they ever were. The weekend Lisa died, she had wanted to come home early from her Vegas getaway with friends to be with Bob and the kids.
But he convinced her to stay. The night of the concert, Lisa texted Bob a kiss emoji, and said she missed him.
A few hours later, he got word of the massacre.
Bob sent Lisa a flurry of texts. Called her cell over and over. Nothing.
He and his son, Robert, got in the car and sped in the darkness toward Vegas.
Their daughter Amber, 19, drove from Northern Arizona University to meet them. After a whole day of searching for Lisa in hospitals, they went to the family assistance center.
Bob got called into a room and that’s where he saw Lisa’s purse, her phone, her lipstick all lined up on a desk. When he walked out, his kids read his face. Amber started to cry. Robert threw a chair, and broke down.
The last few weeks have been a blur of fundraisers, visits by friends bearing food, the constant presence of family. Lisa's mother and sister, Helene and Roberta Marhefka, live only five doors down.
Hundreds attended Lisa’s funeral service nearly two weeks after the shooting. Robert was the first of the children to speak.
"Mom, I love you to the moon and back," Robert said. "Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I’ll see you again someday."
Since Lisa died, money has been an afterthought. The family hasn’t applied for victim’s compensation funds offered by Nevada and California.
Bob hasn’t filed a wrongful death suit like some other families have, though a lawyer friend says he might need to at some point. But one thing Bob says he will do is take a public stand on gun control.
"I don’t get how we can have speed limits and plastic bag bans and all that, we can’t step up and take care of guns," Bob said.
Bob and Lisa each owned a handgun for home protection. But he doesn’t understand why manufacturers are allowed to sell assault weapons to civilians.
"Why is it more important to have those for recreational use than to save people’s lives?"
Amber said she’ll be speaking out on guns, too, and not letting fear get in the way. This past weekend, she went to an outdoor amphitheater to enjoy an EDM festival in San Bernardino.
"I don’t think I thought once about, is there going to be a shooter here," Amber said.
She also plans to go back to college, likely attending Marymount California University in neighboring Palos Verdes so she can be near her family.
At night, when the visitors have stopped rolling in, and it's just Bob and the kids, there's quiet to think about Lisa. Brooke has taken to sleeping next to her dad at night, and that's when they each come up with a favorite memory they have of Lisa.
Brooke may have had the least time with their mom, but she always has several memories. Like the time her mom cheered Brooke on during a softball game as she pitched her way to a strikeout. Or the time Brooke got so scared when her mom dressed up as a scary clown for Halloween she had to hide under the covers.
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