10 years after murder, Lori Hacking's mother forgives, but 'will never get over it'
Ravell Call, Deseret News
OREM — Ten years ago Saturday — on July 19, 2004 — Lori Kay Soares Hacking, was reported missing by her husband after he said she left her house to go for a run in Salt Lake City's Memory Grove.
What unfolded over the next 2 ½ months was an unbelievable story of deception, a double life, and an intense search at the Salt Lake County Landfill that received international attention and would become one of Salt Lake City's highest-profile murders.
Mark Hacking eventually confessed to killing his wife and was ultimately sentenced to prison.
Lori Hacking's mother, Thelma Soares, has well been aware that the 10-year anniversary of the day that forever changed the lives of two families was approaching.
"In a way, it seems like it's been forever. Because the last time I saw her was on the Fourth of July. She and Mark came by, we had dinner here, and we went to Stadium of Fire," she told the Deseret News from her Orem home. "Then, in a way, it just seems like it was the other day. I can't imagine how 10 years have gone by.
"People say, 'You need to do this, you need to do that. You need to get over it.' I wanted to slap them. Because you never get over it. I'm not over it now. I will never get over it. What you get over is the immediacy of it. You get over the shock and the disbelief and all of that panic — that desperation you feel when you can't find your child. You get over that as time passes. But you never get over the loss."
Because of the pain she still feels when she recalls those days, Soares stopped granting interviews for the national news and talk shows long ago and has declined most invitations to be a featured speaker at various functions. Although she kept a busy schedule of speaking engagements and interviews after her daughter's death, she said she no longer has the strength to do it.
"I have talked at so many places. I've been to so many places, and I can't do that anymore. I cannot relive all the details over and over and over. Then it brings all that back that I felt at the time. And I don't want to bring that back. I can't live with that. I can live with how I feel now," she said as she fought back tears.
"It's still so hard to go back and talk about those days. They were awful. They were horrible."
How she feels now is at peace. Even though Soares will never condone what her son-in-law did, she said she has forgiven him.
"It doesn't make anything that he did right," she said. "If you do not forgive something so horrendous like that, it destroys you. You curl up and die inside. That's what it would be like. If someone stuck a pin in me, poison would pour out."
Today, the two exchange letters. The most recent from Hacking arrived in Soares' mailbox just a few weeks ago.
Mark and Lori Hacking were on the verge of moving to North Carolina. Mark Hacking had just graduated from the University of Utah with honors and had been accepted to a North Carolina medical school — or so people thought.
The couple had been married five years and were ready to begin the next phase of their lives. Lori had resigned from her job at Wells Fargo in preparation for the move to Chapel Hill. The couple had a lot of their possessions boxed up and ready to go. Lori had also just recently told family members that she was five weeks pregnant.
On the morning of July 19, 2004, Mark Hacking bought a new mattress for his bedroom. Shortly after that, he called 911 to report that his wife had gone jogging and hadn't returned home. The case came on the heels of the Elizabeth Smart investigation, and immediately an intensive search was launched.
"That first day, it was international. I mean, people get killed all the time. I'm not sure why this case became such a high-profile case so soon. It was that same afternoon that the international press started calling. And this is before Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all that," Soares recalled.
Several hours later, about 2 a.m. on July 20, police were called to a disturbance at the Chase Suite Hotel, 765 E. 400 South, about a half-mile from the Hackings' apartment. Police found Hacking running around naked except for a pair of shoes. His family checked him in to the psychiatric unit at University Hospital.
Over the next several days, Salt Lake police uncovered a string of lies that shocked not only the Soares and Hacking families but the nation because of the complex stories Mark Hacking told to cover up his deceptions. Some called it an elaborate double life. Hacking never graduated from the University of Utah and was never admitted to a college in North Carolina, even though his mother-in-law had helped him with fake term papers and he stored textbooks in her garage.
On July 24, Hacking was confronted by his father and brothers and eventually admitted that he had killed his wife and dumped her body in a trash bin. What followed was weeks of searches under the hot summer sun at the Salt Lake County Landfill before Lori's badly decomposed body was found Oct. 1.
Mark Hacking was sentenced to a term of six years to life in prison, which fit the appropriate sentencing guidelines at the time. But there was a public outcry because many believed the minimum six years didn't seem like enough time.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole held a quick hearing for Hacking and told him he wouldn't even get another consideration for parole until 2035. Utah lawmakers subsequently changed the sentencing guideline for aggravated murder to 15 years to life. The change is commonly referred to as Lori's Law.
Throughout Soares' home today, there are pictures of Lori Hacking from every stage of her life hanging on the walls.
Lori's bedroom is now an office and guest bedroom. In the room, there is a shadow box framed with the clothes Lori was wearing on the day she and her brother were adopted by the Soares family.
In the hallway are all of Lori's school yearbook pictures, from grade school to her time at Orem High. Soares said she can tell the year based on her daughter's hair, which fluctuated between long and curly to very short.
Also hanging on the walls are photos from a professional studio that Mark and Lori had taken to give to their families for Christmas.
In the weeks immediately following the murder, an Orem company offered to digitally erase Mark from every photo at no cost. Lori's father even had her married name "Hacking" removed from her headstone.
Letters from prison
But today, Soares said she doesn't feel the anger as she once did. She now exchanges letters with her son-in-law and shared part of his most recent letter with the Deseret News.
"I hope your health as well as your peace and happiness continue to improve. I think of you often, but I never know what to write. Everything seems inadequate or inoculate, at least with my limited vocabulary. I remember your kindness and acceptance from the time I first met you," he wrote. "I remember the love you showed even when I didn't deserve it. I remember your fear when I told everyone Lori was missing, the anger and despair in your letters and on the day I was sentenced. I remember your forgiveness and kindness when I did not, and never will, deserve them."
Hacking goes on to talk about news reports of other recent crimes he has watched with a myriad of emotions.
"I did not see the coverage of Lori's search nor anything that followed — not until about a year after I came to prison. I see the pain, grief and anger of victims of loved ones, and I try to glean any understanding of what it was like for you and so many others. I am so sorry. I know I have said/written that many times, always sincerely. But with less understanding. Sorry is another inadequate term, but I feel that sorrow to my bones. I am so very sorry. When I look back, I can't imagine why I made so many terrible and illogical choices. I don't understand my own thought processes nor the effects of them on those I loved. None of it makes sense, though you've known that from beginning," he wrote.
"l've been trying to make the most of life in here, but apathy is a constant threat and sometimes it wins. Hopelessness and helplessness can keep me from doing all I should and I often find myself merely coping. I'm not complaining. This is merely the harvest of the seeds I sow."
Hacking wrote that he has read 1,020 books while in prison. Soares recalled how he was always very smart and how he loved doing word puzzles at her house.
In 2005, Hacking and his family released a statement following his sentencing. There is no such thing as a little white lie, he said at that time. The family also said it would be their final statement to the media about the incident.
Hacking declined to talk to the Deseret News for this story. He also relayed a message through Utah State Prison officials that said "he does not plan to do any interviews on this in the future."
In addition to exchanging letters with Hacking, Soares said she also frequently exchanges emails with members of his family.
"They're a wonderful family. They don't come any better than that family and the kids," she said.
When Soares talks of Hacking, she recalls how he was always helping others. She tells stories of him being late for a date with Lori because he'd stop to help a neighbor fix something in their house, or the many times he was on her own roof fixing her swamp cooler.
"He was just this good kid," she said. "The problem with Mark was he suffered from depression."
Forgiveness and peace
Soares has also had several spiritual experiences after her daughter's death that have helped her to move on. One was a blessing she received from an LDS Church general authority. The other was a voice she heard that told her Lori was not in the landfill. At that point, Lori's body had not yet been found. But when it was eventually located there, Soares said she knew that her daughter was already gone.
"Lori's not in the landfill. It's not Lori that's up there. It's her body that's there. Lori is not in the landfill," she said.
While forgiving her son-in-law "doesn't make anything that he did right," Soares said she had to do it for her own sake, not for his.
"People have so many different ideas of what forgiveness means. And I guess it means different things to different people. Does it mean what I think he did was OK? Of course not! Does it mean that I have some understanding of why he did it? Yes," she said. "I'm the one who's benefited from that, not him. I mean, he's still in prison. He said in other letters — he calls them monstrous, hideous things that he did — 'I should never get out of here. I don't deserve to get out of here.' He thinks he should be in there for his life."
Soares said she didn't even realize she had forgiven Hacking until she heard the late James E. Faust, a former member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, give a talk about the subject.
"If you've forgiven someone, you still feel anguish but not anger. You still feel hurt but not hate. That's exactly how I feel," she said.
One of Soares' favorite scriptures is John 14:27 that talks about peace: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
"Somehow the Lord gives you peace," she said. "My heart was broken, but it was not troubled or afraid."
In addition to the pictures on the walls, Soares has received gifts and donations from people all over the world. Memorials made in her daughter's memory hang throughout the house along with honorary diplomas.
"I had no idea people were so kind and so good," she said.
She recalled that at the height of the donations she was receiving, some people would send money and simply address their envelopes: "Lori Hacking's mother, Salt Lake City," and the post office made sure it got to her.
Soares still has the "wrinkled dollar bill" and the dime that a young boy gave her after his mother baked him cookies and he sold them to raise money for Lori's fund.
Today, the University of Utah continues to award the Lori Hacking Scholarship annually to at least one student and will cover the cost of the junior and senior years of study. Soares said the recipients are women who have overcome difficult circumstances to get into college. One recent recipient came from Ukraine, she said, and another from Haiti.
"I think Lori is so happy about all of these young women her scholarship has helped," she said.
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