OREM — Every time Ann Palizzi looks at the face of her grandson, she says she sees her daughter’s face staring back at her.
“Little Carter looks just like his mommy and he acts just like her,” she said of her daughter, Kristy Ragsdale, who was shot at least 12 times in a Lehi church parking lot in January 2008 by her husband, David Ragsdale.
Palizzi and her husband have custody of their two grandsons and are raising them in Washington.
“Kristy was the victim, and I feel very strong that her voice should be heard in the lives of the boys,” said Palizzi, who says she tries to keep the memory of her daughter alive.
Even though the boys were so small when their mother was killed, they do have their own memories of her.
“One day we were in the car listening to some church music and Carter says, ‘Oh! My mom used to sing that!’” she said of the boy who was just 18 months old when his mother died.
David Ragsdale is serving a 20-years-to-life sentence for his wife's murder. Palizzi, however, refuses to allow that tragedy to be the legacy of her grandsons.
“We try and be very open and honest,” she said. “They feel very free to ask any questions.” She hopes by answering those questions, honestly yet carefully, it will allow the boys to heal.
“It will affect their self-esteem if they think their father is a very evil man," she said. "I try and help them understand that good people can make really bad choices in life.”
When asked how she separates her feelings of witnessing her daughter’s death and teaching her grandsons about their father, she has a very direct answer.
“I'm 60 years old. I'm an adult. My first priority is Brandon and Carter," she said. "It has been from the very beginning and it will be every day of my life."
David Ragsdale does write his sons letters from prison. But Palizzi said she has been warned by psychologists that they are too young and too emotionally fragile to visit him.
For now, she said she is intent on imparting a sense of hope, forgiveness and strength upon the boys. That was the subject of a presentation she gave Tuesday to the Chainbreaker Foundation, an Orem-based nonprofit organization that aids both men and women who have suffered from abuse.
Palizzi introduced both Brandon and Carter to the group. It's the first time the two boys have been in a public forum with media present. She said she has always been fiercely protective of them through their father’s murder case as well as her custody case. But more than three years after Kristy’s death, Palizzi said the boys exhibit the normal everyday behavior of a 5- and 7-year-old.
She said of Brandon, who was 3 at the time of his mother’s death: "He just keeps us laughing all the time. He is very, very funny.
"These little boys bring a lot of joy to me. They are phenomenal. It's just a joy to have them in my home and to have them in my life."
She said the boys are figuring out for themselves what they want to call their grandparents, whether it’s Mommy or Grandma, Daddy or Grandpa. But whatever the name, she said it’s up to the boys to decide.
"Sometimes it's Grandma. Sometimes it's Grandma Ann. Sometimes it's Momma. Sometimes it's Mom. Sometimes it's 'Hey you!'" she said laughing.
But she has a name for herself — her daughter’s helper.
"I explained to them that I was their mother's helper because she couldn't be there to raise them and be with them," she said. "I was her helper to make sure they grew up to be men of integrity and to be good citizens."