While many members of Congress proverbially cut their teeth in politics, Rep. Dave Reichert’s throat was cut with a butcher knife. The Washington Republican faced down perps with loaded shotguns pointed at him. And he developed an empathy for runaways because he was once one himself.
As sheriff of King County in his home state, Reichert investigated kidnappings and murders, and rose to prominence by helping bring down the infamous Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway.
“It has become a part of me,” Reichert told HOH as he prepared for a panel discussion on the case Wednesday night at the Naval Heritage Center in D.C. “It was such a tragic and dramatic time in my life and [that of] every investigator that worked on the case.” While Ridgway’s first victims were found in 1982, the case eventually broke around a piece of gauze discovered in 1987, which was preserved until forensic DNA analysis technology could catch up, eventually leading to Ridgway’s arrest in 2001. Reichert was with the victims’ families over a long weekend in 2001 when he informed them that the state would not pursue the death penalty but would instead pursue consecutive life sentences.
“There is a lot of emotion, [I had strong] connections to the families,” he recalled. “The emotion in those three days was indescribable. It ranged from ecstatic — ‘I found my daughter’s remains’ ... to out-and-out rage, banging on my chest.”
He has remained close to some of the families to this day. “I’m still getting calls today from daughters of victims,” Reichert said. “I was just on the phone with a sister.”
His own upbringing might have served to bring Reichert closer to connect with the case.
“I was a runaway myself, from my own home. I left because my dad was an alcoholic [and] there was domestic abuse,” Reichert said.
Ridgway’s victims were predominantly forgotten young girls and women, many of them escaping domestic nightmares for the street.
“These were young girls that were abandoned. They were invisible. They were standing on the street corners, ignored,” he said. “These [types of] girls are still out there — they are 11, 12 years old; some are older women in their 20s and 30s.”
Reichert hopes events like the one on Wednesday remind people not to forget that those young people are out there, unprotected and vulnerable. “Don’t just walk by them,” he said.