Ms. Russell and her family, like other survivors, want to know the truth about what actually happened to her son in China. "For over two years, I was told his death was a traffic accident by the Chinese Traffic Police, State Department, and U. S. Consulate. It took the exhumation and autopsy to prove everything I had stated for over almost two years was completely factual," says Ms. Russell. She spent more than $4,000.00 for letters she sent to every member of Congress, and she sent more than 2,000 packets to the media. She wrote to more than 200 universities and law schools and pro bono attorneys to get freedom of information requests granted.
"There is tremendous confusion as far as protocol with the State Department, U.S. consulates, and U. S. embassies. Congress must review the procedures in place for investigating the deaths of Americans abroad as well as when an American calls a U. S. consulate or U. S. embassy for help. There is no formal procedure for determining whether a case should be considered for criminal investigation, and it is unclear as to who makes the decisions related to those cases. In Darren's case, neither the F.B.I. or the Diplomatic Security Branch were involved in the investigative process, at any time, or even informed of the situation before any possible trail of evidence could be followed," says Ms. Russell.
As a result of her son's tragic death in China, Ms. Russell wants a number of things to occur. Her desire is to receive truthful answers from the investigation that she has been told is being done by the Supreme People's Protocuratorate in China. A U. S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation should answer all pertinent questions in order for the U. S. State Department, U. S. consulates, and U. S. embassies to clearly define protocols for cases involving emergencies and murder investigations that involve Americans.
Following the GAO investigation, Ms. Russell believes there should be testimony from others so people can be educated about the dangers of teaching in China. In addition, she feels there should be a travel warning that lists all previous statistics for deaths of Americans in China. Ms. Russell is also of the opinion that record keeping should be improved. "I was told that the U. S. Consulate in Guangzhou didn't even keep phone logs of emergency calls such as Darren's. I also want to have the other parents who had children murdered, supposed suicides, or pedestrian accidents to be able to contact one another. In that way, we could show patterns and share information. There already seems to be a pattern where the child has called the parents the day before they are murdered or committed suicide supposedly," says Ms. Russell.
Ms. Russell's wish is to also have Congressional hearings to develop a protocol for handling cases such as the one involving her son. "There is a lot of confusion," she admits and adds, "Let's work together on both sides." Her Congressman, Henry A. Waxman (D-California), has been responsive to her communication and requests. He has been proactively communicating with various parties regarding the need for obtaining answers concerning her son's death in China as well as the need for development of proper procedures related to notification, investigation, and follow-up.
The impact of Darren Russell's death, at age 35, on his parents, family members, friends, and students has been profound. The loss of her son and the lack of answers to suspicious circumstances surrounding his death augment the level and intensity of her unrelenting grief. Ms. Russell says, "My life has been forever changed. I have been working 20 hours a day with only four hours of sleep. But I am on a quest for justice. I have learned that the most important way to survive and continue is to find things to give myself purpose. Without that, the grief would be overwhelming. I have the same routine every night before I go to sleep. I pray to God for strength, justice, and for all my dear friends, family, and the military. I pray for Darren to be at peace in heaven. But then I stick out my outstretched arm and ask Darren to hold it. I tell him how much I miss him, and my life will never be the same."