Karen Watkins hasn't seen her picture splashed across the cover of this week's People magazine.

She's hesitant to see it. For her, having celebrity status is no consolation for losing her son, Brian, who died when he leapt to her defense after a mugger punched her.Brian, a 22-year-old tennis star who aspired to become a big-city prosecutor, was killed in Manhattan Sept. 2.

During the two weeks since his brutal death, the private life of the Provo family has been played out publicly time and time again.

Magazines, newspapers and television stations worldwide have opened the family's personal life - their religion, home, work, play - to public scrutiny.

But Sherwin and Karen Watkins aren't hibernating.

Karen Watkins still speaks with reporters who call her home, and this week both parents returned to Manhattan for the first time since the slaying to testify before the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, which is exploring ways to improve subway safety.

No doubt, the Watkinses - a middle-class family from a conservative Utah city - would rather grieve alone or in the company of relatives and close friends.

"It is kind of a private time for us," Karen Watkins said in a Deseret News interview. "But we are thrilled Brian is being honored."

She hopes that by reliving the terrifying experience through the media, "we can do something good. Hopefully we can do something so these kinds of things don't happen again."

Thousands of Americans have joined in the Watkinses' plea for a safer New York. The city was once known for its glitz, glamour and exhilarating hectic pace.

Recently, however, a tourist's nightmarish visions of the Big Apple have been realized.

This summer 13 children have been shot by stray bullets, including one who was cradled in his mother's arms. An assistant prosecutor in the Bronx was killed by a bullet fired at a grocery shop near his office. A prominent Soviet doctor and a New York advertising executive also died in unprovoked shootings.

New Yorkers, outraged by the killings, have protested loudly to city officials. Disgusted residents are demanding the officials fight back.

Meanwhile hundreds of New Yorkers have extended hands of friendship and love to the Watkins family in the form of cards and letters. Of the 700 communiques they have received from around the world, half came from New York and New Jersey.

Some residents merely signed their names to the cards. One large one from Times Square was signed by more than 2,000 residents.

Others wrote notes, expressing shock over Brian's death and sympathy to the family.

Many wrote to assure the family that most New Yorkers are "kind, caring people" who also can't make sense of Brian's senseless death.

Still others sent money and encouraged the family to set up a trust fund in their son's honor.


(Additional information)

Trust fund

At the urging of strangers touched by the Watkinses' personal tragedy, the Brian Watkins Memorial Fund has been established in Provo.

Those wishing to contribute can send donations to Central Bank and Trust, 75 N. University Ave., Provo, UT 84601.

The money will be earmarked for tennis programs and/or scholarships - likely to be awarded through Provo High School and the Utah Tennis Association.

Brian, a lifelong tennis buff, led the Provo High school Bulldogs to the 1986 state 3A championship and, upon graduation, was awarded a tennis scholarship to Idaho State University.