20 years is too long to learn who killed your child, and why

Posted: November 11, 2013

IF HE'D LIVED, Seann Campbell would be 40 years old. His mom, Bonnie Youngers, believes he'd be in some kind of law-enforcement job, even though he'd been leaning toward architectural engineering when he was murdered at 20.

"He had a real interest in the law. He collected books about it - he'd underlined and highlighted different pages," says Youngers. "He was interested in issues of juvenile justice and deterrence. I really think law enforcement was where he eventually would have headed."

That possibility was stolen the night Seann and Bryan Benson, 20, clerks at a West Coast Video in Warminster's Rosemore Shopping Center, were killed inside the store sometime after closing up for the night. This Sunday, Nov. 10, marks the 20th anniversary of their murders. The crime remains unsolved.

"Some days, it's like it happened yesterday; other days, it feels like years since he put his arms around me," says Youngers, who owns a horse farm with her husband, Greg, in Bucks County. A few years after the murders, she and Greg and daughter Lane, who was 12 when Seann was killed, moved to the farm from the Warminster home they'd all shared.

"I miss the daughter-in-law I never had, the grandchildren I never had, how Seann never got to ride horses here, how much he would have loved it," says Youngers. "All the possibilities of what could have been are gone with that one loss."

On the other side of the county, Janice and Gary Benson mourn for son Bryan, an easygoing middle child they'd nicknamed "the dove" for the peaceful way he'd intervene when his brothers, Andy and Eric, got into scraps.

"I don't know what Bryan would be doing today," says Janice, who lives with Gary in the Warminster split-level where they raised their three boys. Bryan's old bedroom now holds toys for the couple's four grandkids, but his music and movie posters still decorate the ceiling. They haven't the heart to take them down. While they've filled in the small pond Bryan dug in the back yard for a high-school project, the rock he'd painted to decorate it - it reads "Bryan's Pond" - still marks the spot.

"He marched to his own beat. He was into music and arts and sports; he was studying film in college. He could've been anything, I guess. When I think of him," which, for two decades, has been every hour of every day, Janice says, "he's still young. He'll always be young. I can't picture him older than 20."

I met Bryan and Seann's families 19 years ago, when I wrote a piece for Philadelphia magazine about the first anniversary of the murder. The brutality of the killings - the boys were practically butchered in the adults section of the store - had rocked quiet little Warminster and dominated Philly headlines and airwaves for weeks.

I spent many hours with the families and would cry on my drive home, mourning sweet and promising young men I'd never met. I hoped, wildly, that my story might jog someone's memory, bring a reluctant witness out of hiding, expose a clue to the boys' killer that no one had realized was critical until they read the article.

It was hubris, of course, to presume my reporting might haul a monster to justice. But that's how much I wanted to bring some kind of peace to the boys' families, even though it would never commute their life sentence of grief.

That's why I wrote two subsequent columns about the murders for the Daily News and am penning a third one on this milestone anniversary. Twenty years is too long to wonder about the circumstances of your child's death. Learning them won't return Seann and Bryan to their loved ones, but it will silence the ongoing taunt of "Who? Why?"

Those questions also taunt Matt Weintraub, chief of prosecution in the Bucks County District Attorney's Office, which has worked jointly with Warminster police on the case.

"This is still very much an active investigation; we're still running down leads," says Weintraub, who was a young county prosecutor, on the job just two months, when Seann and Bryan were killed. Like many employees in the D.A.'s office and Warminster Police Department, he grew up in the area, even attended the same high school the boys had, William Tennent.

"This case is personal for us," he says. "We are just as anxious to find Seann and Bryan's killers today as we were 20 years ago. I really believe we'll solve this. But we need a lucky break."

He asks that anyone with information that might help to share contact the Warminster Police Department at 215-443-5000.

"No matter how insignificant you might think it is, please let us be the judge of that," says Weintraub. "We have a burning passion to solve this."

Because two decades is too long for a parent to wonder who stole their child's future, and why.

And it's sure as hell too long to be writing about it.

Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

comments powered by Disqus