Just before 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, Haskins rose in an upstairs courtroom at the Albany County Courthouse in Laramie and pleaded not guilty. The Schabron and Shatto families were there, and so was Karen Perkins, the mother of 21-year-old senior Cody Brown. With her own mother beside her, Perkins wore a button on her chest, the one with a black winged foot with an "8" in the middle. "I wanted him to see me," she says of Haskins. "I wanted him to see my heart broken."
Haskins hasn't dropped out of sight. He's back in class at Wyoming, awaiting a February trial that, with a 20-year maximum sentence on each count, could put him away until the year 2162. "I don't think there's any question his life has been ruined," Dubois says, "and that's not something we should minimize." Howard, the Cowboys rodeo coach, echoes the university president. "He's got to live with those eight deaths," he says of Haskins. "That's traumatic enough. Now they want to put another 160 years on him?" (Neither Haskins's family nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment for this article.)
Dubois was stunned to learn a week after the accident that Haskins, an agricultural business major set to graduate this spring, would be returning to his studies a few days later. Dubois worried that students would seek reprisals. So far there have been no incidents. None of the parents of the eight runners have demanded that Haskins rot in jail for life. They ricochet between forgiveness and rage, sadness and shock so often that they don't know what they feel.
The day after hearing their son had been killed, Justin Lambert-B�langer's parents came across a high school essay in which he had written, "I want to change the way people are.... Maybe I could make [films] that would change the way men see women or the way murder victims' families see their loved ones' killer."
"It's like he left us a message: Don't hold on to it," says Lucie Lambert-B�langer.
Haskins hasn't apologized for his actions on Sept. 16—his bond agreement forbids him to contact the victims' families—and his not-guilty plea and return to school have shaken the families. More than anything, they want him to take responsibility. "At this point I think this would be fair: that he spend at least 40 years in jail," says Richard Johnson, father of Kyle. "That would [release] him at age 60, and most likely his parents would have died and he would never have children. He denied us a lot. He took away our child."
What Karen Perkins wants is something she can hardly articulate. Disaster imbued her son Cody Brown with a great compassion. When he was six, nearly two years after his parents' divorce, his dad committed suicide. As Cody drifted into adolescence, Karen worried that he too might consider killing himself. No, her son told her, he had no desire to die. He never quite grew up—trading Pokemon cards and collecting GI Joes to the end—but he was also drawn to people in pain. Sanchez's wife, Veronica, was stricken with cancer five years ago. and Cody later adopted the family, taking care of their teenage daughter, Amanda, as if she were his younger sister.
"I was in the hospital in Denver, and I'd always worry, Who's taking care of my kids?" says Veronica. "But Cody would say, 'I've got it covered, Roni. Get better.' He'd show up and say, 'I wanted to see how you were.' Or call: 'I know Coach is going to be busy. Do you need anything?' "
Karen is an office coordinator for a pediatric dentist in Hudson, Colo., and in the summer of 2000, Cody accompanied her boss to Romania to help treat the teeth of children, many of them orphans, stricken with AIDS. Cody came back determined to go to dental school and then go on missions like the one to Romania for the rest of his life. In the weeks after Sept. 16, Karen would impulsively call Cody's cell phone, hoping for...she doesn't know what she was hoping for.
After Haskins pleaded innocent, Karen waited outside the courtroom. When Haskins emerged, he looked her in the eye and said, "Hello." Her mind spun: Did he just say that? Yes, he did. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She felt her mother grab her and pull her away. She needed her mother. The man who killed her son had just said hello.