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Utah families still feel effects of tragedy

Forgiveness helps heal the wounds a generation later

Debi Kent and Susan Curtis lived in the same neighborhood, attended the same school events and died at the hands of the same monster.

For years, there were no explanations for their disappearance and no peace for their families.

Then in 1989, before he was put to death in the Florida electric chair, Ted Bundy admitted to killing the two girls, drawing investigators a crude map and giving directions to where he left their corpses.

He had long been suspected in the disappearance of Kent, 17, but had never been linked to Curtis, 15.

Both the Kent and Curtis families were at a Viewmont High School production of "The Redhead" on Nov. 8, 1974, when Debi disappeared.

The play started late and 11-year-old Blair Kent was waiting to be picked up from a roller rink. Debi, who had already seen the production, volunteered to go get her brother.

Her parents began to worry when Debi hadn't come back by the play's end. Then they noticed her car was still in the parking lot.

"That was when we really panicked," Belva Kent remembers today. "It was a terrible night, and from then on, it never stopped."

Blair remembers the commotion at home as friends and neighbors formed fruitless search parties.

But police found a clue that would help bring Bundy down. A key in the parking lot matched a set of handcuffs taken off 19-year-old Carol DaRonch earlier that day. DaRonch had escaped from a man in a tan Volkswagen Beetle.

On Aug. 16, 1975, when police stumbled across a man driving a similar VW with pantyhose, a ski mask, an ice pick, two pair of handcuffs and a crowbar inside, DaRonch identified Bundy. He was immediately a suspect in Kent's abduction and several others.

Two months earlier, Susan Curtis had been at Mormon youth conference banquet at Brigham Young University when she told a roommate she was walking back to the dormitories a quarter mile away.

She never made it.

Marilyn Curtis says now that the disappearance was especially hard on Susan's sister, who was also at the conference, and blamed herself for not walking with her sister.

The family would have to wait nearly 14 years to find out what happened to Susan.

Debi Kent's murder was among the first in which Bundy was a suspect, and Belva Kent attended his trial for the DaRonch kidnapping every day. Her presence seemed to make Bundy uncomfortable, Blair Kent says.

"He was a very charismatic man, and he just floated around the courtroom like he owned the place," Belva Kent says. "He was very arrogant."

Bundy was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Months later, he was sent to Colorado to stand trial for murder. He escaped and fled to Florida, where he killed three more women before he was arrested, tried and sentenced to death.

A few days before his execution, Bundy began talking about his murders.

He forgot about Curtis — one of more than 30 he killed — until he was walking down the hall to the execution chamber. He stopped the warden and asked for a tape recorder so he could make his last confession.

Marilyn Curtis says she received a call from a friend who saw the news that Bundy had confessed to killing Susan.

"It was like going through it all again," she says. "At first you think she's coming home and you look for her and she doesn't come and you cry. What helped a lot was to know. It helped the bad dreams and finally have it settled what really happened."

The Kent family also gathered for the execution.

"It was a very somber morning for us," Blair Kent says. "Yes, we were pleased that justice was carried out, but the fact that someone had to lose their life for it was unfortunate."

Both families searched, but neither girl's remains were ever found. Still, the families say they took solace in knowing where their loved ones rested.

"We went down there and just listened to Bundy's confession. he gave details of what happened and a timeline and we spent some time just quietly," Blair Kent says. "It was just spending time with your family and, yes, there was a spirit of peace, that, yes, she was buried in this area."

Both families also say they have forgiven Bundy — it's not in their religion to carry a grudge. They also say they have not forgotten the people Bundy snatched from them and the porch light at the Kent home remains lit for Debi.

"We always left the porch light on when they went out at night and the last one home always turned it off," Belva Kent says.

"I will never turn it off. As long as I'm here, I will never turn it off."