WASHINGTON – It’s been three long years since Judi and Wayne Richardson’s daughter, Darien, died after being shot by an intruder while she was sleeping in her Portland apartment.

“It’s harder with the realization that three years have passed,” Judi Richardson said. “It’s hard knowing that it hasn’t been solved. You’re in limbo.”

And then there is the ever-present “what if” surrounding their daughter’s death.

“She might not be dead if there had been a background check,” she said.

As the legislative debate over gun control gears up, Darien Richardson’s murder is one of the cases cited in Maine and now in Washington, D.C., as proof of the need to require background checks on all private gun sales.

And her parents plan to play a role — even if it’s a small one — in a debate that sharply divides lawmakers and a public that appears to support stronger gun laws but also fiercely defends Americans’ right to bear arms.

“All we are asking for is common-sense gun laws,” Wayne Richardson said recently. “Nobody is taking guns away.”

Darien Richardson was a 25-year-old Bowdoin College graduate working at an insurance agency when sometime around 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2010, masked intruders burst into her Portland apartment. Darien survived being shot in the leg and hand and was scheduled for several surgeries but died 51 days later due to a blood clot caused by her injuries.

A month later, the same .45 caliber handgun used to shoot Darien was apparently used by another gunman to kill a man in Portland. But that shooter, Daudoit Butsitsi, refused to say where he got the gun. And when police attempted to trace the weapon in hopes of finding Darien’s killer, they ran into an informational wall.

The private seller had no records of the gun sale because neither Maine nor federal law require them. Police have yet to make any arrests in Darien’s shooting and are hoping someone will come forward with additional information.

The family has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.

A year after her daughter’s death, Judi Richardson participated in an event held by Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence. She and Wayne Richardson have also established a nonprofit, Remembering Darien, aimed at helping gun violence victims heal and rebuild their lives while working to educate the community.

But it wasn’t until last week that the South Portland couple joined the national debate over gun violence. The Richardsons were among 120 gun violence survivors and family members of victims who converged on Washington, D.C., as part of a campaign to pressure Congress to enact stricter gun laws.

They visited members of Congress and met with first lady Michelle Obama at the White House. They also attended a news conference where advocates called for, among other things, a law mandating that private sellers conduct background checks on potential buyers just like licensed dealers are required to do.

The Richardsons said the wound of losing a child never truly heals. But the couple has found some consolation in joining others advocating for steps they believe will reduce gun violence.

“What’s helpful is being with all of these people we met,” Judi Richardson said while seated in a Washington hotel lobby as the couple waited for their flight back to Maine. “You are experiencing the same thing.”

The organization Mayors gainst Illegal Guns that sponsored last week’s events in Washington — timed to coincide with President Obama’s State of the Union Speech — has called for three major reforms: universal background checks on all gun sales, bans on military-style assault rifles and larger ammunition magazines, and making illegal gun trafficking a federal crime.

Any gun control measure faces stiff opposition in Congress from lawmakers — both Republican and Democratic — reluctant to support changes viewed as stepping on the Second Amendment. But expanding the background check requirement is regarded as the most likely to pass.

The Richardsons are also aware, however, of the political challenge facing gun control advocates, including some in Maine’s congressional delegation.

Wayne Richardson has heard the argument plenty of times that a determined criminal will find a way to get a gun. But he is convinced that making it harder for criminals will save some lives. And even if it’s just a few lives, it’s worth it, he said.

Judi Richardson concurs. “We don’t want other people to go through this,” she said.

The 3rd annual Walk to Remember Darien and Other Victims of Violent Crimes will be held on March 23 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Back Cove in Portland. Money raised through the event will go toward the nonprofit Remembering Darien.

For more information, go to www.rememberingdarien.org.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

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On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC