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Remembering Joy Risker

One thing seems certain about Joy Risker. She was beloved by her family and her many devoted and loyal friends.  Everyone who testified, friends, family and even Sean, agreed that it was uncanny how people gravitated towards her like moths to a flame. Words used to describe her include “vibrant”, and “outgoing”. One friend nicknamed her “Joyous” because “that’s what she was.”  Everyone said she was, literally, the Joy of life.

Joy was the only child of Gwendolyn and Charles Risker, Jr. They divorced when she was nine and Charles moved back to their hometown of Detroit; it was just Joy and Gwen in San Diego.  Mother and daughter were always very close. There were some years of estrangement between daughter and father but eventually, Joy bridged the divide, and they seemed to be making progress.

Joy liked going to church and participated in many church-related activities. It was at church where she first met Sean and his first wife. Sean befriended Joy’s mother Gwen. Joy was in a youth group for which Sean was a volunteer pastor. In some of her letters, Joy indicated that her mother approved of her relationship with Sean, a married man, and at the time of that beach “wedding”, a brand new father. Joy was 19 when she “married” Sean. He was 30.

Joy had not earned all her credits for high school and it would be another couple years before she received her high school diploma. She was very proud of that accomplishment.  She was always interested in higher education and enrolled in various courses at local community colleges. She cultivated many college-educated friends.

Joy gave birth to her first son on June 7, 2000. That night her mother, after visiting Joy and her new grandson, collapsed. The next day, Gwen Risker died unexpectedly. Joy’s friends say she never truly got over the loss and continued to grieve deeply for her mother.  Joy gave birth to a second son in 2002. 

Joy was a woman at a crossroads at the time of her death.  She had written a children’s book.  She was taking classes in American Sign Language at a local community college. She wanted to become a sign language interpreter. She also wanted to become a make-up artist, and was thinking of enrolling in cosmetology classes.

Joy had confided in her friends that the relationship with Sean was no longer fulfilling to her and that she wanted out.  She wasn’t ready to leave but was preparing herself to make the transition.  She had hoped her father could move to San Diego to help her out, but that was not to be.

Joy celebrated her 25th birthday on July 15, 2003. Several friends say that she had been planning a surprise birthday party for Sean’s upcoming October birthday.  She was killed on September 19, 2003.

Joy Risker was “a wonderful person, and I only hope her sons learn and understand that. They had a wonderful mother. She was smart, talented and beautiful.”  Those are the words of one of her dear friends.  

--Charmaine Lewis, Dateline producer