MERCED — "This is Christine McFadden. I think my ex-husband has killed my children."
That was the 911 phone call that Merced veterinarian McFadden made on March 26, 2002. It was the phone call that changed her whole life.
McFadden had just returned from her morning walk when she made that call. Her four children — Melanie Willis, 17, Stanley Willis, 15, Stuart Willis, 14, and 5-year-old Michelle Hogan — were found shot to death by McFadden's ex-husband, John Hogan, who had then committed suicide.
Many people, including McFadden herself, thought she couldn't go on. She said more than once that she wished she had died with her children. From time to time, she seriously considered ending her life.
Seven years later, McFadden is married and has 2½-year-old twin daughters. And she has made sure that her four children who lost their lives far too soon are still honored.
McFadden founded the MSSM Foundation, which uses the initials of her late children's names. The foundation began as an aid for local students to go to a university. That morphed into using foundation money for scholarships for students at the University of California at Merced.
Like a chocolate chip cookie
One of the ways the foundation raises money is through the sale of cookies, which are shaped like the paw print of a bobcat.
McFadden got the idea while at Applegate Zoo, watching as UC Merced officials adopted a baby bobcat. The bobcat is the university's mascot.
"I saw the bobcat and thought he looked just like a chocolate chip cookie," McFadden said. She decided to sell cookies to help raise money for the scholarships.
The cookies are called friendship cookies, because of the emphasis on friendship that the scholarship foundation pushes. Friends were important to McFadden's children, and they and her own friends rallied around the veterinarian after her loss.
"As part of the scholarship requirements, we insist on a letter from a friend of the student," McFadden said.
The foundation awards $4,000 a year, giving $1,000 to a student from each class, from freshmen to seniors. All the profits from cookie sales go to the scholarships, McFadden said.
This weekend, the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority will sell the cookies at UC Merced's Preview Day. The cookies go for $1.50 each, and they're baked by Merced's Bagel Tyme, which makes bagels, cookies and cakes.
Dennis and Kristen Scerbo, owners of Bagel Tyme, decided to help McFadden with the cookies, donating most of the production costs.
"It's for a good cause," said Dennis Scerbo. "We've been here 22 years, and we felt an obligation to do it."
Students who apply for the scholarships can be from anywhere and, except for incoming freshmen, must have a 2.5 grade-point average.
The scholarships are to be used only at UC Merced, McFadden said, and can't be transferred if the student switches universities.
McFadden has made plans for the foundation's future with the help of Oprah Winfrey, who gave $100,000 for the scholarships. McFadden appeared on Winfrey's show after her children's deaths.
"It's so hard for me to be a fund raiser — it's so close to my heart," McFadden said. "I am best as a veterinarian.
"Every time someone donates, it feels personal. When they say no, it feels like they are saying no to my children."
McFadden is busy enjoying her twin daughters, with her husband, Gerald Corman, a Family Court judge in Merced. She said the two girls have made a huge impact on her life.
"There's a difference between being alive and living a life," she said. "They have made it a real life."
That doesn't change the feelings McFadden holds for her murdered children.
"My children were so, so important to me," she said.
"I want to always honor them."