KANSAS CITY — Tina Porter smiled, fighting back tears as she watched two blond-haired girls dart toward the playground and climb on the miniature rocking horses.
"This is the first time I've been here when there are kids around," she said, the tears now rolling down her cheeks. "This is what Sam and Lindsey would have wanted. But it's really hard for me to watch."
Five years after the murders of her children at the hands of their father, Tina Porter tries to focus on anything positive that has come out of their deaths. And there have been several, including the playground.
It was on June 5, 2004, that Dan Porter picked up Sam and Lindsey, 7 and 8, at their Independence home for a weekend visit. Soon afterward, he drove along Cement City Road in Sugar Creek and pulled into a wooded area. He led Sam and Lindsey into the woods, saying he had a surprise for them.
After blindfolding them, he told them to lie down on two towels he had placed on the ground. Then he pulled out two .357 revolvers wrapped in white towels, and holding one in each hand, shot them simultaneously in the back of the head.
For three years, three months and three days, Porter refused to say what happened to his children. Authorities and volunteers conducted massive searches as he sat in prison on kidnapping charges. But in September 2007, he confessed to killing them and led FBI agents to their shallow grave.
Tina Porter doesn't want to sugarcoat anything.
"People may think I'm strong, but I'm not," she said. "There are good days and bad days. Some days, I just don't want to get out of bed."
She has struggled with depression and financial difficulties as she has tried to bring some normalcy back to her life.
"But when your children are taken from you, there is no normal anymore," she said. "Other people hear about bad things happening to someone else, but then they can forget about it. I have to battle this every day."
What she can do, Tina Porter said, is focus on the good that has happened since.
The playground is one of those bright spots.
Built in June 2008 at Hartman Heritage Center along the Little Blue River Trace Trail in Independence, it features slides, swings and a jungle gym in bright blue and purple — Sam and Lindsey's favorite colors. Blue benches placed side by side bear their names.
About $60,000 in private donations were collected for the playground. Jackson County offered the land and construction companies donated labor and machinery.
As Tina Porter sat at a picnic table at the playground one morning last week, the activity began to pick up. Two women arrived, each with a set of twins. Her eyes lighted up.
"I'm a twin, too," she told the mothers.
When she asked the children's names, she caught her breath — one of the little girls was named Porter.
"We love this playground," said Kristen Abernathy of Independence, the mother of twins Jordon and Jaylon, who will turn 4 next month. "We come here a lot."
Besides the playground, Tina Porter also is excited about a scholarship established in Sam and Lindsey's names through the Truman Heartland Community Foundation. The scholarship, which is still in the works, will be awarded at William Chrisman High School in Independence beginning in 2013, the year Lindsey would have graduated.
"The first year there will just be one," she said. "From the second year on, there will be a scholarship for one boy and one girl."
Sam and Lindsey's deaths also helped bring about the passage of legislation in Missouri that toughens the penalty against parents who kidnap their children.
"Prior to the new law, the statute was one size fits all," said Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar, who pushed for the legislation.
"It's not one size fits all. There's a difference between a parent who kidnaps their child for 10 days and one who does for three years. So it addresses that and has a graduated range of punishment, which I think serves as a real deterrent to this type of criminal activity in the future."
More recently, Tina Porter has taken on another project that helps her cope with her grief. She has "adopted" an area women's shelter, delivering goody baskets to the residents. Numerous items are donated, but Tina buys many others herself, even though she knows she can't afford them.
"I can't help it. I just love doing it," she said. "I want them to feel a little bit of happiness."
On Easter, she went to a Walmart and came home with a pile of stuffed animals, 75 Easter baskets, eight large boxes of fake grass and dozens of packages of egg dye, all donated by the store. With the help of other stores, she put together Mother's Day gift packets of lotions, shower gels, jewelry and journals for the mothers at the shelter and provided the children with handcrafted wooden roses and cards to give to their moms.
"She wanted to do something for the children and make them feel good to be able to do something for their mothers," said Barbara Coots, executive vice president of the Bank of Grain Valley, where the children's memorial fund was established. "She is just so good about helping people."
Kanatzar said he and others involved in the case have been inspired by Tina Porter.
"These two children, to lose their lives at the age they did and the way they did, is just so disturbing on so many levels," he said. "In all my years of being a prosecutor, I never cease to be amazed at the strength of victims and their abilities to cope with impossible situations.
"And Tina Porter, I know that this has caused her pain beyond belief."
Mike Hart, a longtime friend of Tina and Dan Porter, said he also has been impressed with Tina's strength.
"Tina's resolve is something I just can't understand," he said. "No matter whether it's a good day or a bad day, she hangs in there, and she has such a strong desire to reach out to others."
She buried Sam and Lindsey side by side with the ashes of their English bulldog, Bossie, in Lobb Cemetery in rural eastern Jackson County. Bossie was struck and killed by a school bus two weeks after Sam and Lindsey disappeared.
The graves are along a wooded area and across the road from a pond in the quiet countryside. Behind the headstones is a dark granite bench engraved with the words, "In loving memory of Lindsey and Sam Porter. Please sit a while, rest and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the surroundings."
Trinkets have been left to adorn the headstones: sparkly bracelets on Lindsey's, a red toy truck and a miniature skateboard on Sam's. The children's smiling faces are etched on the front.
"It's so peaceful here," Tina said during a visit last week. "It's beautiful. Sometimes, I just sit here and think."
Dan Porter, 46, is serving a life sentence with no chance for parole at the Potosi Correctional Center. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in January 2008 to avoid the death penalty.
In a letter mailed to The Kansas City Star on May 13, he wrote, "Sure, sometimes I feel as if I could speak to the public in one way or another but just when I think I know just what to say to show the remorse when I try to think of all the words to use, I get confused."
Tina Porter said she asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty for her ex-husband.
"I couldn't bring myself to be the one responsible for Dan's death," she said, blinking back tears. "Sam and Lindsey would not have wanted that. They loved their dad."
She wants to visit Dan, and is working on the arrangements.
"I know some people might think I'm crazy," she said, "but he needs to hear me say that I forgive him."