"That's when I called a friend, Michael Meyerson at the University of Baltimore Law School," said Cardin. "We had to make sure we did this right."

Meyerson worked to craft a bill that would respect the First Amendment protections of free speech while giving law enforcement a tool to use against anyone using electronic communication to threaten or inflict emotional distress on a minor.

This new focus — legislation that would give law enforcement and schools a tool and a deterrent — gave Grace's parents only a brief distraction from the unalterable fact of Grace's death.

"They were the only times of clear, focused thinking," said Christine McComas of working on testimony to support the bill. "Dave and I found we could keep it together and do what was needed publicly. But then we would spend an equal or greater amount of time afterward grieving.

"Even when the news was good, there was always the realization that our vivacious and sweet daughter is forever gone."

Grace's parents and her older sisters, Cara, a senior at Stevenson University, and Megan, a sophomore at Salisbury University, testified before the legislature, their voices breaking.

"I wish I wasn't here," Christine said to reporters after testifying. She read the tweets aloud, including the ones urging Grace to kill herself.

"It is gossip and hatred at the speed of electronic media," she said.

Cara, a nursing student, said that the first time she performed CPR, it was on her sister. "That never should have happened."

Afterward, the eyes of the family were red-rimmed and they looked exhausted by grief.

"The legislative process moves in fits and starts," said Christine McComas. And there were devastating low points, such as when one delegate said loudly, "It's the Internet! Just turn it off!"

The law passed the Maryland House and Senate unanimously, though it may still face court challenges. Cardin said it is almost unheard of for a social issue of this complexity to be addressed in one legislative season.

"Sen. [Allan] Kittleman [who sponsored the Senate version of the bill], arranged for Gloria and I to be on the Senate floor with him to witness the moment," said Christine. "It was momentous and bittersweet at the same time.

"I am hoping that in the future we will look back as a society and say this was the moment when we began to protect our children...and that goodness and kindness won."

Katie O'Malley now keeps a picture of Grace on her desk. "I hope this will help the family mend. Their grief has been so incredible."

Ulman, who had been so frustrated that there was nothing in the Maryland law that would allow the police to address the cyber-bullying, is pleased with the change.

"I am glad we have it," he said. "I am sorry that we need it."

Among the sisters, Megan thinks Grace would be confused that there needed to be a law, that it was not just part of human nature to be kind. "But I think she would be very happy that we didn't let her dying be in vain."

Gloria thinks the law is just the kind of thing her sister would have gotten done. "She was a person who if you give her an idea, she would run with it," said Gloria, who has grown to look just like her absent sister.

Christine, smiling, said she thinks Grace the teen-ager would have been mortified by all the attention. But she added, "I remember standing over her body and not knowing what I would do. That it just flowed into this is a wonderful feeling."

Grace's father, Dave, thinks she would "have loved this law.

"Grace was always looking out for other people. This law is in line with who she was."

Cara McComas delivered the eulogy that spring morning more than a year ago.

"There was a light about her that brightened everyone else's day," she said of her funny, tender-hearted sister, who once tried to save the life of a garden slug.

"Her death was a tragedy. But nothing about her was sad."

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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