Karen Giddings remembers her daughter’s intelligence, independent spirit

Mother shares details about recent Mercer law school graduate's life

jkovac@macon.comJuly 10, 2011 

She was the oldest of three daughters, an intelligent, driven big sister who, at age 27, was fun-loving and yet sentimental enough that she still treasured “Snowball,” a stuffed-animal bunny from her childhood.

She adored that rabbit. When she studied abroad in Bulgaria, the rabbit went with her. European customs agents tried to confiscate him. She, an attorney in the making, talked them out of it.

Lately the bunny, a Valentine’s gift from her father when she was 3 or 4, was residing with her in Macon near a white, decorative pillow on her bed. The pillow was special, too. Its monogram showed off Lauren Teresa Giddings’ initials in pink, curvy letters -- an L and a T with a big G in the middle.

Lauren, who lived in a sandy-colored apartment building across the street from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, where she graduated in May, showed off those letters just about anywhere she could: on her bath towels, her jewelry, her purse. When she’d give her sisters gifts, it wasn’t unusual for her to have the presents monogrammed with her sisters’ initials on them.

So Lauren didn’t mind that the hand-me-down Mitsubishi she drove had her 24-year-old middle sister Kaitlyn’s name on its personalized Maryland license plate.

Lauren was comfortable and proud in who she was, what she had become and what she was becoming.

She was a statuesque, blond-haired, Mid-Atlantic girl who’d ventured to the Deep South for college and law school and what she’d hoped would be the beginning of a legal career.

She liked country music and bluegrass. Sometimes when she was home from college, she and her folks would go to bluegrass festivals. One in Gettysburg, Pa., featured a band that would play a tune called “Georgia Rose” just for Lauren.

“My little rose that bloomed in Georgia,” the song goes, “with the hair of gold and the heart so true.”

* * *

It has been two weeks since anyone Lauren knows last heard from her.

Sometime on or after the night of June 25, she was killed. The hunt for whoever is responsible has prompted one of the highest profile police investigations here in years.

Not perhaps since a boyfriend and girlfriend -- Mercer University students -- were shot to death in their car at Lake Juliette in Monroe County one night in 1995 has there been a crime so closely followed by news outlets from across the region.

No one has been implicated in Lauren’s slaying. The circumstances surrounding her death are, at least publicly, unknown.

“She was always aware of her surroundings,” her mother, Karen Giddings, said the other day. “She didn’t go blindly into something.”

* * *

Lauren’s folks used to joke about how they couldn’t figure out where her smarts came from.

“We weren’t really good students in school,” her mother said. “We were OK, but from an early age she was so focused and knew what she wanted.”

At first she was going to be a veterinarian. Then she leaned toward becoming a physician. She ended up majoring in political science at Agnes Scott College in Decatur.

Going to school so far from home wasn’t that big of a deal to her. Her family had relatives in north Georgia. The place somehow just felt right.

“She had an independent spirit,” her mother said. “She embraced anything that came her way. She wanted to experience it, ... smell it, breathe it, have it all around her.”

Karen worries that some of her nieces and nephews might be afraid to leave home and go to college themselves because of what happened to Lauren.

“They need to go out and live life to the fullest. I know because of the circumstances and the gruesomeness of Lauren’s death that it’s gonna make it extremely hard,” said Karen, who turns 50 this month.

Sending her youngest daughter Sarah, Lauren’s youngest sister who is 18, to college won’t be easy, either.

“I don’t know how we’re gonna let her go,” Karen said. “But we’re gonna have to encourage her if she wants to.”

* * *

Lauren’s childhood home sits on land that has been in the Giddings family for generations.

It is situated near the tree-lined edge of a neighborhood meadow just east of Interstate 95, about 20 miles southwest of downtown Baltimore and maybe half that far from Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Lauren was born in the spring of 1984. She shares a birthday with famed attorney Clarence Darrow.

One of her grandpas nicknamed her “Pumpkin.” Others in the family sometimes called her “Laurnie.”

When she was about 12, Lauren and two of her neighborhood friends, Lori Supsic and Katie O’Hare, went tubing in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Lori and Katie cruised through a rapid unscathed, only to look back and see Lauren, bringing up the rear, plunge into the white-water, limbs flailing.

“All of a sudden she pops up out of the water and she has her hair all over her face and she’s dying laughing and says, ‘I lost my shoe!’” Lori recalled. “She had just been tumbled through this rapid and she was complaining about her shoe through nonstop laughter.”

Lori can remember how they’d all spend the night at Lauren’s and in the bed it’d be Katie and Lori and Lauren and “Snowball.”

Lauren’s mother and her father, Bill, own and operate Giddings Hauling and Trash Removal, “a very small business,” Karen said, that delivers jumbo trash bins to construction sites.

Lauren had aspirations “to be a Supreme Court justice, the president,” Karen said. “The sky was the limit.”

“I really could see her being a judge. She loved the law,” Karen said late last week as she sat at a patio table just outside the door of Lauren’s Georgia Avenue apartment.

“She worked really hard (in law school). It may seem like a waste that she worked so hard and was killed right after that. But I have to say every minute of that studying she loved.”

* * *

For more than an hour, Karen Giddings shared the details of her slain daughter’s life.

Karen said she now felt a sense of calm being so close to Lauren’s apartment, seated feet from its front door, in the town where Lauren had made so many friends and accomplished so much.

“Right after her death, none of us wanted to come here. We were like, ‘We never want to see Macon again.’ Now I don’t feel like that,” Karen said.

“I’m getting a lot of peace from being here,” she said, meaning on the patio, outside and away from the task at hand inside Apartment No. 2, where Lauren’s uncle George, her father and her sisters were going through Lauren’s belongings. “I’m OK out here. In there ...”

The mother’s voice trailed off.

Karen spoke fondly of the state her family came to know better nearly two decades ago when her mom, who had been adopted as a child, discovered 50 years later that she had a sister living in the mountains of north Georgia.

“I am completely in love with Georgia,” Karen said. “This does not change my feeling for that at all. Everybody here is just so warm and caring. Believe it or not, I even love the climate. I have no malice towards Georgia.”

Lauren, when searching for a place to live while she went to law school, fell in love with the boxy-but-cute apartments up the hill from Macon’s Hay House mansion. The desert-beige, cozy dwellings overlooked Georgia Avenue and the law school across the road. After she moved in, people would kid her, say that the place looked like a motel.

“Mom,” Lauren would groan, “people say I’m living at La Quinta.”

Karen liked the apartment because it was at the edge of the terraced complex, steps from the sidewalk, overlooking a well-traveled street.

“My priest at home was asking if this was an unsafe town,” Karen said, “and I couldn’t describe it. I said, ‘You can go two blocks away and there’s ghetto, and then two other blocks and see beautiful antebellum homes.’”

Despite losing her first-born child here along a scenic hilltop in a river town that is going on 200 years old, a city where, in spots, the old days seem forever preserved, Karen said her daughter’s past here won’t so much haunt her.

“I’ll be back,” she said.

“But it’s almost like a little piece of Georgia is gonna die with Lauren, because she brought a piece of that Southern hospitality home to us all the time.”

* * *

Now Lauren Teresa Giddings will walk with her sisters forever.

She will accompany their every step.

In the days immediately after their eldest sibling’s death, Sarah and Kaitlyn, back home in Maryland, made sure of that.

They made a sisterly pact.

“We felt helpless being that far away,” Kaitlyn said.

Because tradition for wedding rings and things like that says your left side is closer to your heart, a tiny tattoo comprised of three letters now adorns the topsides of each of their left feet.

A monogram is now shared by three.

An L and a T with a G in the middle.

Telegraph staff writer Amy Leigh Womack contributed to this story.

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