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'It burns a hole in your heart,' father of murdered Kingsmen says 5 years later

Five years ago, Sigmund and Barbara Szymanski began a quiet and dignified, but fiercely passionate, fight on behalf of their murdered son.

They attended arraignments and sentencings, and they were a day-in, day-out presence at two trials, one of them lasting three months.

Even when crime scene photos were shown to the jury, Barb Szymanski sat there, unwavering in her support of her dead son. Her husband, upset by the graphic images, often walked out of the courtroom.

Two weeks ago, the last of the Kingsmen Motorcycle Club members was sentenced to prison. For the Szymanskis, it meant an end to their long battle.

The sentencing also came just days before the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 6, 2014 killing of Daniel "DJ" Szymanski at the hands of his fellow Kingsmen.

"It burns a hole in your heart that never leaves," Siggy Szymanski said of his son's murder.

For the first time since DJ and Kingsmen Paul Maue were killed execution-style, the victims of a hit ordered by club President David Pirk, the Szymanskis can let their guard down.

They can stop reliving that night in early September, the night Kingsmen Andre Jenkins shot and killed their son and Maue.  And maybe, just maybe, they can find some semblance of closure.

"We had to be there to fight for him," Barb Szymanski said of their constant presence in court.

They wanted the judges and juries to know that DJ came from a good family and that they cared enough about their son, and the outcome of the case, to show up every day.

Even now, five years later, they seem far from moving on, a consequence, perhaps, of their insistence on being visible and vigilant advocates for their son.

"They destroyed our family," Barb Szymanski said of his killers. "When they took my son, they took us, too."

Not only did the murder take away DJ, it changed her relationship with her husband and daughter, she said.

Now, they try to focus on the good memories and doing everything possible to keep DJ's memory alive.

Police say ‘civil war’ in Kingsmen biker gang was behind 2014 slaying of 2 members

In one of their upstairs bedrooms, there are photos of him everywhere; a stuffed teddy bear, his first; and a metal replica of a motorcycle on the wall.

In the middle of it all sit DJ's ashes.

"Every morning, I come in here and tell him how much I love him," Siggy Szymanski said.

More than anything, they want their son remembered for what they saw in him –  a big, burly man capable of tremendous warmth and compassion.

They will tell anyone who listens about the tattoos on his body, some of them honoring friends lost in the Iraq war, and of his devotion to his younger sister, Kristen, and her two children.

"When people looked at him, they would be afraid of him," said Siggy Szymanski. "But then he'd open his mouth and those same people were soon his best friends."

The two of them still smile when they talk about his arrival as a 2-day-old newborn – he was adopted – and of the time he busted up his knee jumping off a porch trying to elude police looking for underage drinkers. He was a talented high school football player at the time.

They laugh when they recall how he persuaded his sister to break the news of his new Harley Davidson to their father and how he would constantly tease his claustrophobic mother.

"He would pick me up and say, if you don't settle down, I'm putting you in the laundry room," Barb Szymanski said with a smile.

Even now, five years after the murder, they're not sure why he was killed. Was it the result of an internal rivalry or because he was rumored to be leaving the Kingsmen for another club?

What they do know is that their son gravitated to the Kingsmen because of his love of bike riding – it made him feel free, he told his mother – and of his need to belong.

During the trials, one in state court, the other in federal court, they learned more than they wanted to about the club and their son's role in it. Like many Kingsmen, DJ was linked to acts of violence.

"We learned some things about Danny, some good, some bad," Siggy Szymanski acknowledged this week.

For them, there were two DJ's. The one they choose to remember is the doting, caring son, the guy who loved family dinners and parties.

Now that the prosecutions are over, they can look back with some sense of satisfaction. Pirk and Jenkins are serving life sentences, and each of the 20 indicted Kingsmen was convicted.

Their only regret is the 20-year sentence given to Timothy Enix, second in charge of the club. They thought he should have received more time.

"Knowing that the people who are responsible are going to jail," Siggy Szymanski said. "There's that kind of closure."

But what about their ability to move on with their lives? They work, and they both talk endlessly of their two grandchildren, but it is clear they still struggle with the loss.

"Day by day, you get up in the morning and you get through the day however possible," Siggy Szymanski said. "You never get over it."

They realize their five-year-long advocacy on behalf of DJ may have hampered their ability to care for themselves. And yet, they still yearn to keep his memory alive.

"I want to honor my son," Barb Szymanski said this week, "and I don't want people to forget him."

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