Grieving aunt and uncle reflect on their time with murdered St. Charles twin teens
Editor's note: Russell and Patty Coffland lost their twin 16-year-old nieces, Brittany and Tiffany Coffland of St. Charles, when their father Randy shot them to death, wounded their mother and then fatally shot himself. Still trying to cope with the loss, the Cofflands share their special memories of the girls, offer some thoughts on this horrific crime and say thank you to the St. Charles community.
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA -- Our world was changed forever on March 10, 2017. A day we will never forget, as our lives came crashing down around us.
Our story starts when we were still living in Illinois and found out that Randy and Anjum had twin girls. At that time, we didn't really talk a lot because of family differences, but it is amazing how Brittany and Tiffany brought the family back together. From the time they were little, they took to us like second parents and loved playing with our cats! We could already tell that they both loved animals, were very gentle beings, but also very quiet. We spent many holidays and birthdays together and loved getting down on the floor to color with them or play silly games.
We watched nervously as Tiffany decided to take horseback riding lessons. She was such a small girl on a huge horse!
Then one day, we decided to move to Florida. It was a tough decision leaving our family behind, but knew we would still take time to talk and spend time with each other. So, we started taking family vacations together, specifically Disney World. Russell had never been to Disney, and really didn't think he would like it, but we had so much fun on the rides and watching the fireworks at night, playing in the pool and just enjoying each other's company. So much joy!
One special memory was that Brittany would hold Russell's hand, while Tiffany would hold Patty's. Then after we would do a ride together, we would switch with Russell and Tiffany holding hands, while Patty would have Brittany's hand. In the beginning, they were too short to do the "wilder" roller coasters, so we started on the Wild West coaster. Patty hated roller coasters, but took a big breath and got on. She enjoyed every minute with Tiffany at her side! As they grew taller, we graduated to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Everest and loved every minute of it. As of now, we don't think we will ever be able to go to Disney again.
Then, Patty was transferred to Charlotte, North Carolina. We had been here for a couple of years, and Randy decided that they would drive down for Christmas. And, it actually snowed on Christmas Day for the girls! We had such a great time, cooking, laughing and sharing our special tradition: watching Polar Express before going to bed on Christmas Eve.
As they got older, we decided to all meet in Chattanooga, Tennessee, because it was a good halfway point for us to meet to take some vacation time together. We spent some time in the mountains and caves out there and played a rousing game of miniature golf!
After that, Randy and the girls came down to visit for a week without Anjum. About this time, we could sense there were problems starting in the marriage. We had fun exploring the mountains here and enjoyed just hanging out and talking, getting to know the girls again.
Then Brittany and Tiffany entered their teenage years. We started to lose touch with them as they had so many school activities and friends. A couple of years ago, Tiffany spent 2 weeks with us here in North Carolina and we ended up just hanging out, watching movies and getting caught up. Before they left Illinois, Patty had a chance to have a long conversation with Brittany, learning about her love of music and her hopes of working in the music industry.
Russell would still talk with Randy, but around Christmas 2016, you could tell something was going on. Randy was sad that we didn't get to come to visit at Christmas, and started to open up about how the marriage was falling apart. We started to get small details; at first, everything sounded amicable. Then Anjum moved out. We kept reaching out to Randy, but he always said it was not a good time to talk. We asked if we could come out and support the family -- in any way. Again, it was not a good time.
On March 11, a police officer knocked on our door and told us the awful news: Randy had killed himself. We were shocked. Our first reaction was that we would take care of the girls and when we said that, the look the officer gave us sent us shock waves. How could that be? How could they be taken from us like that?
After the girls were buried, Anjum told Russell that Randy had said two months before that he was going to kill the girls but she didn't believe him. In today's society, with all the shootings going on in the world, it seems crucial that if you hear something, say something.
We took care of all the funeral arrangements with the help of friends. We managed to put the arrangements together within the week, bought the plots, and Russell found the perfect headstone. We had a small service for the girls at Christ Community Church in St. Charles and an additional service at the gravesite for Randy and the girls.
We have gone back a second time now, and cleaning out the condo was very difficult. Thankfully, we have new friends who have helped immensely. As we have talked to people within the community, we've learned more little details on what was going on in their family. There was a lot of unpleasantness, unhappiness, and we wish we would have known about it sooner.
We also want to say that before whatever prompted Randy to take the girls' lives, he had been a good father, although a tough one. When they were young, they were given anything. As they grew older, we hear that he was very tough when it came to school work, and he could be degrading. We are pretty sure that we will never forgive him for taking the girls away from us -- and the rest of the world.
It is very difficult to deal with the grief that we feel. It is very hard for us to accept the fact that Randy killed his children. It is something we will never understand. We have been going through pictures and talking a lot about the wonderful times we had together with the girls. Our walls are now covered with their pictures so we can see their beautiful smiles in every room. We will be starting counseling soon and are looking into grief groups in our area. We suggest that everyone who has felt the depth of tragedy to seek counseling.
One final, but extremely important thought: If you see or hear something, please tell someone! If you know a child is being abused, tell someone! If someone is threatening to cut or hurt themselves, tell someone! If someone is threatening to kill others, tell someone!
Maybe tragedies such as ours can be avoided in the future.