MOSES LAKE – “I remember vividly the intense hug he gave his grandma the night before he died.”
Alice Fritz reflected back to Feb. 2, 1996, holding her son’s cold hand at the hospital. She remembered the scene outside Frontier Middle School, driving along routes her son, Arnie, might have used to walk home, hoping to find him safe. On Wednesday, she spoke directly to Barry Loukaitis, her son’s killer.
“Barry, I know you did such damage to yourself as well,” Fritz said. “You understand, Barry, that I am not afraid of you. But the idea of the pain that you being out of prison would cause your classmates, Natalie (Hintz), overwhelms me. The impact that this has had on my life, it took a long time before the images and experiences of that two hour period weren’t there, just flashing before my eyes. Probably about three years.”
Fritz said she visited Loukaitis in prison about five years ago, speaking with him for several hours.
“When we talked Barry, I told you that I hope you could wake up in the morning and know that if you could have a good day, Arnie’s mom was happy with that and you should not feel guilty for any joy you could find in your life. I still mean that. You have value. I hope that you can experience joy and purpose. I challenge you to do that.”
Wednesday’s hearing in Grant County Superior Court to re-sentence the now 36-year-old Loukaitis for killing three people and wounding a fourth, brought the horrifying memories of that day back to light for the victims’ families.
One-by-one, family, classmates and friends of slain 14-year-olds Arnie Fritz and Manuel Vela, math teacher Leona Caires, and survivor Natalie Hintz addressed a crowded courtroom, many of whom who did the same back at Loukaitis’ original sentencing.
Arnie Fritz’s sister Renee Hopkins offered forgiveness to Loukaitis.
“The choice to forgive you has evolved into a feeling,” she said. “We forgive you. Barry, we appreciate that you as an adult are taking responsibility in owning your actions. You are right, you acted selfishly and with disregard, not only for the people you killed, injured and terrified that day, but for an entire community when you carried out your plan.”
Jon Lane, the teacher who confronted and disarmed Loukaitis, said the past several months have been stressful, as he again began thinking about that day in 1996, every day, keeping him up at night, waiting for Wednesday’s hearing.
“The process has shown things are not okay, and they probably never will be,” Lane said. “I’ve talked to a lot of students in that classroom. No one can understand what they went through unless they went through it. Even me. I wasn’t in the classroom when Barry came in and started shooting. I just can’t imagine the terror.”
Natalie Hintz, who nearly died after she was shot in the arm, told the court her “childhood ended” that day.
“I relive the day I was shot over and over again,” she said. “As I sit here, I am still waiting for the day my sorrow decreases. I don’t care what you’re (Loukaitis) going through. Your sentence was supposed to be final, like death is final. I’m being victimized all over again.”
Victoria Kimble, a daughter of teacher Leona Caires, said she continues to feel hatred toward Loukaitis, requesting the court impose the harshest possible sentence.
“He murdered my mother and deprived me of all the loving memories I could’ve had with her,” Kimble said. “She loved to teach. She died with a piece of chalk in one hand and an eraser in the other. My family and I were devastated but not defeated by what occurred.”
Manuel Vela’s father, Manuel Vela, Sr. called Loukaitis’ original sentence that included life in prison without parole a “right and justifiable sentence.”
“My wife and I spent many days wondering what our beautiful son would be doing today,” Vela said. “Would we be grandparents? Would we like the same sports teams? Would he be a successful young man? We’ll never know.”
Manuel Vela, Jr.’s mother and two brothers also spoke Wednesday.
Derek Martinez, Manuel Vela, Jr.’s classmate and best friend, was in the classroom next door to where Loukaitis opened fire. “Class was normal as usual until that first shot,” he said.
Martinez remembered being under his desk as his teacher locked the door, being escorted out of the school and seeing the blood in the hallway.
“We all lost our innocence that day,” Martinez said. “Does he deserve forgiveness? Probably so. Does he deserve freedom? Absolutely not.”
Judge Pro Tem Michael Cooper, who was also the judge in the original case, sentenced Loukaitis to 189 years in prison on Wednesday.
“Perhaps it will bring some closure,” Cooper said.