GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Around noon on Monday at a cemetery on Lake Michigan Drive, Sharon Hammack’s sisters placed flowers on her grave.
“I’m glad you will have justice now, sister, and we have relief and closure,” said Terri Navitskas. “I miss you so much every day.”
Tina DeYoung thought of their parents, who had died without knowing who killed their daughter.
“You’re up there celebrating with mom and dad,” said DeYoung, imagining the reunion.
The cemetery where Hammack was buried was the sisters’ first stop Monday after attending a news conference about the arrest of Hammack’s alleged killer.
Hammack, a 29-year-old mother of two, was found strangled, stabbed and bound in a ditch along 76th Street near Kraft Avenue SE.
“He is a truck driver,” said Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young, referring to the man charged in Hammack’s rape and murder.
Garry Dean Artman, 64, is an over-the-road trucker now based in Florida who lived in Grand Rapids in the mid-90s when at least a dozen local women, including Hammack, were found dead in Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa counties.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan State Police used forensic genetic genealogy to compare DNA left at the Hammack crime scene against DNA submitted to databases by people tracing their ancestry.
It took less than a year for genealogists to narrow down the potential pool to a man and woman who had four sons, only one of whom had ties to Grand Rapids: Garry Dean Artman.
The long-haul trucker lived in GR in the mid-90’s upon his release from a Michigan prison where he’d served 11 years for a rape conviction.
“I hope he rots in hell for what he did,” said Navitskas, Hammack’s sister. “He’s a monster.”
DeYoung does not know if she’ll be able to attend court hearings.
“I don’t know if I can face him,” said DeYoung. “I have so much anger over what (he) did to her.”
Hammack’s biological son, Eric Herington, reached out to News 8 after reading about Artman’s arrest.
“I’m baffled, really,” said Herington, in an interview with News 8 via Zoom. “Why? Why would he even do it?”
Herington, 32, was 6 years old when his mom gave him and his sister up for adoption.
“When my mom was around, she was always so happy. She was involved,” recalled Herington. “I knew she loved us. I knew she wanted to be there, but other things in her life made her absent.”
Herington has precious few memories of his biological mom, but he clings to them.
“I’m afraid most of the time that life will drown out my memories of her, and I don’t want that to happen,” he said.
Herington said he has memory challenges due in part to PTSD from his service in Afghanistan.
He also has unresolved emotions and trauma regarding the loss of his mom.
“I’m actually in the process of finding help for all that, and it’s crazy because all of this happens,” he said, referring to the arrest in his mom’s murder. “My number one thing I do not want to forget (my mom).”
“She was the sweetest person on earth.”
Herington said he knew his mom struggled with substance abuse after enduring trauma herself.
Most of the 13 women whose bodies were found in and around Grand Rapids in the mid-90’s struggled with addiction and had turned to the commercial sex industry to survive.
“I believe she loved us very much. Even when we were given up for adoption, I don’t believe she wanted to. I don’t think she wanted to at all, but I think in her heart, she knew she couldn’t give us the best. So she wanted to allow someone else to give us the world,” said Herington, who’s 32 and married with five children.
He’s a truck driver, and he and his wife are in the process of buying a house.
“We were very fortunate,” said Herington, referring to him and his sister and their adoption by a wonderful family.
Artman is being held in a Mississippi jail pending extradition to Michigan to face murder and criminal sexual conduct charges in Sharon Hammack’s murder.
Herington, who lives out of state, hopes he can attend the court hearings to witness his mom’s killer face justice.