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Bittersweet Christmas

Mon., Dec. 11, 2006, midnight

Elsie Long was losing hope that her grandson’s killer ever would be found.

After six months of dead ends, the sheriff’s investigation into the hit-and-run death of Robb Long, 29, had grown cold. They had no solid eyewitnesses, only a piece of plastic from the undercarriage of the car that ran over Robb as he rode his moped home from work June 9. Motor vehicle experts determined that 500 Spokane County cars matched the description of the car that hit Robb.

Then, in the last days of November, an anonymous tipster called detectives about a silver Dodge Intrepid matching the car believed to have killed Robb. The car owned by Christopher J. Lynch, 23, had been seen outside an apartment complex at 6103 E. Eighth Ave. in Edgecliff – less than two miles from Elsie Long’s home.

Detectives arrested Lynch last Wednesday on suspicion of felony vehicular homicide after interviewing him and others. If last week’s arrest proves to be the beginning of the end of the case, much of the credit will go to Robb’s grandmother.

It’s tough to keep the spotlight on a case that’s gone cold. News outlets eager to report on a criminal investigation lose interest when nothing changes. The daily tide of traffic washes the signs of tragedy from roadsides.

Elsie, 76, wouldn’t let Robb’s story fade. She wanted people to remember her grandson. Robb was a pharmacy technician at Costco Wholesale in Spokane Valley. He was the guy who cared so deeply for his customers that he’d pay house calls to make sure they took their medicine correctly. When strangers needed a place to stay, Robb not only took them in; he offered them his bed then retreated to the living room floor where he slept with his golden retriever-Labrador mix, Bogie.

He was also Elsie’s prince, a big, young teddy bear who would come in the front door of her house, wrap her in a hug and spin her off the floor. “What are you going to do about it, Grandma?” he asked when Elsie protested. “What are you going to do?”

When no one else would publish Robb’s picture, Elsie, along with her husband, Bob, made sure a photograph was placed prominently at the scene of Robb’s death. When Robb’s case was no longer the lead feature of the Sheriff’s Department’s tipster hotline, Elsie, with a lot of help from her friends, made sure the phone number was posted along with Robb’s name on Sprague Avenue.

As the year drew to a close, the grandmother renewed her plea for media coverage, maybe because Dec. 9 marked the six-month anniversary of Robb’s death, but perhaps also because Christmas was symbolic of her relationship with her grandson.

Robb’s parents divorced when he was young and he had lost track of his mother after the split. Even into his 20s, Robb wasn’t particularly close to his mom, but he was incredibly close to Elsie and Bob, his father’s parents. The grandparents and Robb lived on the same street, just a half-dozen addresses apart.

A few Christmases back, Robb’s mother sought to renew her relationship with her son by offering to pick him up for the holiday. Robb waited for his ride on the porch of his grandparents’ house as Elsie and Bob left for their own Christmas trip. And he was still waiting, devastated, when his grandparents returned.

Elsie vowed to never let Robb spend another Christmas alone. In a sense, fulfilling that promise this year meant unraveling the riddle of Robb’s death.

“He has no idea what he took from us when he killed Robb,” Elsie Long said. “He has no idea what he did to this family. Robb was our only grandson.”


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