When art instructor Randall Lake showed the painting to the Molens 15 years ago, he told them, "You can have it if you'd like, but it's not finished."
"That's OK," Norma responded with tears in her eyes. "Steven's life wasn't finished."
Her youngest child, a gifted writer with a bright future, was shot to death in 1992 in a girlfriend's dorm room, a few months before he would have graduated from Indiana University.
Five years earlier, Steven had posed for Lake in his tattered raincoat while tagging along with a friend for an art class one day.
"He stood out in a quiet way," says Ron, a retired architect who now paints landscapes with Norma in a sunny studio off the kitchen of their Salt Lake home. The Molens recently joined me for a Free Lunch of turkey sandwiches and tomato soup, hoping to draw attention to the escalating problem of gun violence in our country.
"A German would never have gotten a gun in his own country — the German kids are safe," says Ron, 78. "But American kids are not. Steven was a really interesting human being who had much to contribute. The world is certainly poorer for him being gone."Steven Molen was killed trying to protect his friend Susan Clements from an old boyfriend who had been stalking her for months. Andreas Drexler, a troubled 28-year-old graduate student at Stanford University, showed up at Susan's dorm room one night, determined that she go home with him.
Steven wrestled Andreas to the floor but was persuaded to let him go by a dorm supervisor who'd heard the commotion. As the intruder turned to leave, he pulled a pistol out of his backpack and shot Steven in the groin with an exploding bullet, then shot Susan several times in the face before killing himself. Steven died five days later at an Indiana hospital.
For more than a year his parents grieved, shocked that their gentle-natured son was killed in such a violent way. They kept thinking about the boy who wouldn't join the rest of his friends in shooting BB guns because he didn't want to kill squirrels and birds, only admire them. For months, Norma would only read books about near-death experiences and angels because nothing else eased her pain.
Then, the year after Steven's murder, the Molens got angry. Why was Andreas Drexler allowed to wander around campus with a handgun and a bag full of ammunition?
When they learned that more than 30,000 people are killed by guns in the United States every year, they decided to take action. In 1994, they started the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah in the hope of getting some of the state's gun laws changed.
"We've been absolutely unsuccessful," says Ron, "but we're not giving up. Other states have banned assault weapons and exploding bullets, so why not Utah? And let's get concealed weapons off the campus, for crying out loud. How many more kids have to die before we get the message?"
It's unacceptable, say the Molens, that their son would have been better off living in any other advanced nation besides the United States. Every day, they shake their heads as they read yet another story about a gang shooting, a suicide, a disturbed student reloading on a college campus.
"So many lives are shattered when somebody dies from gun violence," says Norma, who helps organize a tulip bulb planting every year to remember Utahns killed by guns. She gazes at her son's portrait and becomes silent. "He had much to offer," she says finally. "There is much he could have done with his incredible life."