The day strangers on the Internet used my friend’s murder to score political points

Five years ago on June 27, I experienced the worst day of my life.

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I’ll never forget the call that told me that my sweet friend Vanessa Pham had been found murdered in Annandale, Virginia. Vanessa’s life was cut short at 19, and our tight-knit community was devastated by the loss of our friend.

The tragedy was ripe for national attention: A beautiful young girl is found murdered in an affluent DC suburb with no motive, no weapon, and no suspects. The case went cold for several years before Julio Miguel Blanco-Garcia, a Guatemalan national, confessed to the crime. The brutal details of Pham’s murder are still hard for me to think about.

On June 27th 2010, Blanco-Garcia approached Vanessa in a parking lot along with his young daughter, asking for a ride to the local hospital. We now know that he was high on PCP, and he was clearly in physical distress. I’m not surprised Vanessa took him and his daughter into her car to rush him to the hospital.

At some point down the road, Pham had taken a wrong turn, and Blanco-Garcia became paranoid. He proceeded to stab her several times and flee with his daughter. Vanessa’s life ended in the car that day.

In the weeks and months that followed, as our community mourned together and tried to make sense of losing our friend, we did not have much time to think about the man who murdered her.

This sadly was not the case for many trying to push a certain political agenda.

The fact that Blanco-Garcia was an undocumented immigrant spread quickly throughout right-wing media. “He was on drugs! He had priors! See, illegal immigration openly welcomes violent criminals in the country!”  Those types of headlines popped up regularly. One article, The Illegal Alien Murder of Vanessa Pham by Michelle Malkin, so thoroughly disgusted me that it weighed on my mind for several years.

Imagine my surprise this week to see the article resurface on Malkin’s Twitter feed as a result of recent comments made by Donald Trump.

Overcome with anger, I tweeted at Malkin – who tweeted back, refusing of course, to acknowledge any pain she might have caused me.

Suddenly, my Twitter notifications went crazy.

Hundreds of tweets, comments, and messages flooded my way. Nasty, vindictive comments from strangers who’d never met me or Vanessa. Who knew nothing about her.

“If she’s happy with murderers getting sanctuary, she’s not much of a friend.”

“If she was really your friend, you’d be upset.”

“Some friend you are.”

It was exhausting. It was disillusioning.

I had committed the ultimate crime to Malkin and her followers: Not assuming the correct ideological position after the loss of my friend.

And what an extraordinarily cruel statement that is–‘You are a bad person because if you were a true friend to Vanessa, you would agree with my political views!’

Appallingly, multiple Twitter users implied that I actually took Blanco-Garcia’s side!

I couldn’t help but think that Vanessa, one of the sweetest souls I ever knew, would be heartbroken to see her death wielded into a weapon to be used against people who had nothing to do with it.

While there are many valid viewpoints in the extremely complex immigration debate, passages like the following from Malkin’s column are inexcusable in any honest debate.

“When he wasn’t working illegally as a construction worker in the government-fueled Boomtown ‘burb or getting himself high on drugs, Blanco-Garcia was building up a lengthy rap sheet.  [He] had been arrested for:

–Public swearing/intoxication in March 2010.

–Petit larceny in September 2011.

–Concealment/Price alteration of merchandise in April 2012”

“[Pham]’s decision to be a Good Samaritan to [..] Blanco-Garcia cost her life.[…]

There is not one crime listed here that would indicate a future violent criminal. Conservatives and libertarians should know that government is out of control at all levels—and committing nonviolent crimes does not a violent criminal make.

Blanco-Garcia’s history of breaking petty laws is no more a prediction of a violent murder than the fact that he was an undocumented immigrant. Research shows this to be the case.

This is difficult to say, but I do not believe there was a single government policy that could have saved Vanessa’s life.

Could she have benefitted from gun laws that would have allowed her to carry a firearm at 19? Sure. Could the healthcare industry be reformed to reduce cost, affording Blanco-Garcia accessibility to an ambulance? Sure. Could the immigration system be changed to efficiently remove immigrants with violent criminal records in the United States? Absolutely.

However, none of these things would have guaranteed that Vanessa got home that night.

That’s the thing about senseless tragedies: they leave us grappling with unanswerable questions. Even if America had a utopian set of laws and policies, horrific things can and do still occur. This is human nature. Our lives are shaped daily by an intricate series of policies, but we cannot define the merit of those policies by extraordinary outliers such as a man high on mind-altering drugs murdering a sweet girl who offered him and his daughter a ride to the hospital.

Using the tragic story of a young girl who was murdered by an immigrant as an excuse to smear undocumented immigrants as cold and violent is wrong.

It’s incredibly disrespectful to those of us who still think about our friend every day.

If I learned one thing from the way Vanessa lived her life, it’s that empathy and kindness matter. I hope some of my fellow conservatives can learn from her example.


Nikki West is a Republican political consultant living in Arlington, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @PandiAttack

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