Saturday was supposed to be girls’ night out for Crystal Sheree Hamilton and a group of her friends. They planned to meet at a local restaurant. But when Crystal still hadn’t joined them by 7 p.m., Hawla Donley said she grabbed her phone.
“I was texting her and texting her, saying where are you? Why aren’t you here?” Donley said. “I didn’t realize that by then, she was already dead.”
On Sunday afternoon, a teary Donley joined two friends outside the handsome, two-story brick home on Lashmere Court where their friend, Crystal Hamilton, 29, lived with her husband Ronald W. Hamilton and their 11-year-old son.
At a press conference a few hours before, Prince William County Police Chief Stephan Hudson confirmed the devastating news. The woman found dead inside the home was their friend, Crystal.
Ronald Hamilton, 32, Crystal’s high-school sweetheart and her husband of more than 10 years, had been charged with first-degree murder, in connection with Crystal Hamilton’s death, and capital murder in connection with the fatal shooting of Prince William County police Officer Ashley Guindon, 28.
Ronald Hamilton has also been charged with two counts of malicious wounding of a police officer. In addition to Officer Guindon, two other officers were shot when they responded to Crystal Hamilton’s 911 call for help, including Guindon’s field training officer, Officer David McKeown, 33, and Officer Jesse Hempen, 31. Both remain hospitalized Sunday, recovering from serious but not life-threatening injuries, Hudson said.
The Saturday evening shooting stunned the community off Ridgefield Road between Dale City and Lake Ridge. But no one more than Donley and her friend, Shayna Colunga, who said they were shocked to see the Hamiltons’ home on Facebook and TV news reports.
The friends hugged and cried and consoled each another Sunday as they set up a memorial for their friend in the Hamiltons' front yard.
They brought candles, bouquets of bright-colored mums and a dozen white roses tipped in red. They taped four pictures of Crystal Hamilton, downloaded from her Facebook page, onto a bright pink poster board, which they nailed to a tree.
“Crystal Hamilton, God’s new angel,” they wrote in purple marker. “We love you!”
When the three talked about Crystal Hamilton, their mood brightened.
“She lit up a room wherever she went,” Colunga said. “She was just an amazing person. She was beautiful inside and out and she didn’t deserve this.”
Crystal and Ronald Hamilton were originally from Charleston, S.C., but had moved to Woodbridge four years ago and had been living on Lashmere Court for about three years, Colunga said.
Crystal Hamilton worked for the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment as a recovery care coordinator, according to her Facebook page.
She started at Quantico, but had been offered a job working with wounded Marines hospitalized at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., which she loved, her friends said.
“She never complained about the commute. Only when it rained or snowed,” Colunga said.
Colunga said she met Crystal Hamilton because their sons, both fifth-graders, are friends. They hung out and played Minecraft together, Colunga said.
Donley’s children are older but she was a friend of Colunga’s, who said her husband worked with Ronald Hamilton, an Army staff sergeant, at the Pentagon. Their families got together on weekends to play games and share meals.
Both said Crystal Hamilton was “an amazing mother” to her son, who turned 11 on Wednesday. He had just made the honor roll, which made their friend beam with pride.
“That was her little munchkin, that’s what she called him,” Donley said.
The boy, whose name has not been released, was home when the shooting occurred but was not physically injured, Hudson said. He is being cared for by relatives.
The women said they saw no sign of the violence that took their friend’s life. Colunga said the couple sometimes argued, “But it was just regular couple stuff.”
Colunga said she could not say a lot about Ronald Hamilton or his military career, adding she and her husband had been told to refer such questions to his office at the Pentagon.
They had come out Sunday afternoon to remember their friend Crystal Hamilton, who they called “amazing and beautiful.”
As they sat on the sidewalk outside the Hamiltons’ home, just beyond the yellow police caution tape circling the yard, the three friends said they want the community to know Crystal Hamilton was a military wife who loved her family, her friends and working with wounded Marines.
“She still is” working with Marines, Donley added. “She’s seeing them now in heaven. They’re up there hanging out with her.”
Neighbors are planning a vigil in Crystal Hamilton's honor on March 1 at 7 p.m. in front of the family's home at 13051 Lashmere Court in Woodbridge.