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Victims' relatives take part in service

Gathering puts focus on those who lost loved ones to murder

The Courier-Journal

Henry White and Linda Thieneman sang "We honor your memory and pray that you may rest in peace" yesterday at a service at Quinn Chapel AME Church for people whose loved ones have been murdered.

Pat Harris placed a candle on a table at yesterday's service to remember her son Demetrius, who was killed in June of last year. Harris was among about 130 people who attended the memorial event, which was being held for the fourth year.

Martha Harrison Dickerson clutched a wood-framed photograph of her son Kirk, who was shot during a robbery in December.

With other relatives yesterday, she joined in a service especially for people like her — people who have lost a son or daughter or another loved one to a violent death. Dickerson's son was 44 when he died.

"This was nice," she said quietly, removing his picture from the protection of a plastic bag. It bore the image of a handsome, smiling man.

Dickerson joined 130 people at Quinn Chapel AME Church, 1901 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., to sing hymns, pray and light a small violet candle to honor the memory of her son.

Several other people, like Dickerson, were grieving for 49 people from Louisville and around the region who were murdered during the last year.

Others had lost children or parents a decade or more ago, and they joined in to light a candle and announce the person's name.

The fourth annual memorial gathering was a joint effort of the Bridges Center, a grief-counseling organization affiliated with hospice centers in Louisville, Southern Indiana and Central Kentucky, and Interfaith Support for Murder Victims' Families.

That organization held its first memorial in March 2001 after members of the Catholic Church of the Epiphany decided that too little attention was being focused on grieving survivors who must find a way to go on with life after their loved one is murdered.

It's important "to remember, to comfort other families," said John Byron, who with his wife, Pat, has become an activist for victims' rights. Their youngest daughter, Mary, was slain in the Mall St. Matthews parking lot in December 1993 after leaving work. The killer was an ex-boyfriend who'd just been released from jail.

Byron's death led her parents on a relentless — and successful — push for Kentucky to create a computerized system to notify victims and other concerned parties when an abuser is to be released from jail or prison.

Even though it's been 10 years since Mary Byron's death, her father said, "you never know what's going to trigger a memory." Recently, on a drive to work from his home in Jeffersontown, Byron saw a small brown rabbit in the road, and he thought of his daughter, who had kept rabbits.

As the group at Quinn Chapel illustrated, Byron said, murder doesn't discriminate by race or socioeconomic status. The survivors come from all walks of life, and are white and black and Hispanic.

Byron said yesterday's service was valuable for survivors. "It helps to know other people" who have survived the ordeal, he said.

True to its interfaith roots, the service included readings from the Bible, Baha'i scripture, the Koran and a Buddhist litany for peace. The choir from St. Edward Catholic Church in Jeffersontown led the hymns. There were also solos by Henry White, Linda Thieneman and Robin Shaw.

It seems that each year a few more people hear about the service and attend to remember a loved one or to support a family, observed Barbara Bouton, director of the Bridges Center.

Having a way for families to meet others is important, Bouton said.

"Every time there's a murder, it brings it all back. There's a real value for building a community for these people."

©Copyright 2004, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY, USA). All rights reserved.

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