FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Families and survivors gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor and support victims of violent crimes to commemorate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 18.7 million Americans are directly affected by violent crimes, each year. Tuesday, families and supporters of victims of violent crimes gathered for a candlelight vigil sponsored by the Victims Assistance Department, a branch of FWPD. More than 700 names and pictures of victims from Allen County, dating back to 1969, were displayed, and everyone was given an electric candle to light in honor of their loved one.
For a dollar, people received a blue ribbon called the “Forget Me Not” to symbolize those gone, but not forgotten.
“It’s a place for families to come and feel supported…because a lot of times they feel that their loved one’s forgotten, or if they’re a victim, what’s happened to them is forgotten,” said Maria Aguirre. “So we’re here to provide information and show our support to our victims that have come through our program and let the public know that we are here in the event that they would become a victim.”
Janet Seay says she's been attending ever since her son, Benton Seay, was killed in a drive-by shooting 12 years ago. Benton was 20-years-old. She says she also lost her mother and brother-in-law to violent crimes.
“It helps me to smile and think about him as opposed to thinking about that sad night. It helps me to go on with my life,” said Seay. “Basically take it one day at a time, try to think of their life and smile and not just the tragic day that you lost them and how you lost them. Today I can think of him and smile.”
Seay says the Victims Assistance program has helped her in her recovery.
“Sometimes our family and friends don’t understand unless they’ve been there, but these people do, so if I have a bad day it’s alright with them, but with other people it’s like, ‘Oh my God there she goes again.’ They feel that it’s something you just get past, but you don’t,” Seay said. “But here they understand, you don’t get past it, you just learn to live with it.”
Venus Bush was the guest speaker at the vigil. Bush lost her son, Justin, in a shooting at Mookie's Bar and Grill this past Halloween. His case remains unsolved. Bush says the vigil enlightened her.
“The kinship in the room, of everybody feeling the loss of their loved one, it was amazing,” Bush said. “I think the most important thing for me is the people I met afterward that came up to me and shared their stories and encouraged me. That means a lot.”
Aguirre says the program continues to be held in the Allen County Courthouse, because the courthouse symbolizes justice.
“You always hear about the perpetrator and what’s going on with them and nothing on the victim,” Aguirre said. “This is the only justice that some victims get because their crime is never solved or the perpetrator was acquitted, so it’s important for them to be here in courthouse.”
The vigil was also designed to make the community aware of the Victims Assistance Department, which provides advocacy, assistance, and services to victims' families during aftermath of a crime and throughout the criminal justice system. Their next event is their annual 3K Run/Walk fundraiser. That event is Saturday, May 19 at Franke Park. All proceeds from the “Forget Me Not” ribbons and run/walk will go toward the Victims Assistance emergency fund.
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