Now in its 23rd year, Maryland's annual statewide memorial service for crime victims and their families, an official day of remembrance organized by prosecutors and the state Board of Victims Services, comes with a long roll call of the murdered or missing. The names now cover fully 28 pages in the program organizers hand out at the door to each of four services held across the state, and the music video that lists each name runs for most of an hour.
Sunday, in Hagerstown in western Maryland, in Denton on the Eastern Shore, in Waldorf in southern Maryland and in the auditorium of Long Reach High School in Howard County, the families of victims gathered to remember their dead and to be among others who share the pain of losing a loved one to violent crime. "I come here to remember my son," said Ernest Harris, of Baltimore, whose only son, Steven Harris, was beaten to death in 2010. "But I come to be around other people who know what it is, who know what I feel."
One of them was Johnnie Batts. He and Ernest Harris used to work at the old General Motors plant on Broening Highway. Batts' son, Jason, was killed at the age of 23 as he tried to flee a robbery in 2008 in Howard County.
Family members placed small potted plants and flowers along a row of small lights at the rim of the stage in the Long Reach auditorium. They attached name cards and photographs of murder victims — sons and daughters, fathers and uncles, brothers and cousins. Relatives wrote I-miss-you messages on small placards clipped to card-holders in each of the modest memorials at the stage's edge.
One memorial was for Mark Rio Galvez, a 27-year-old South Baltimore man who was murdered in 2001. "Ten years now, Mark," a hand-written note on his memorial said, "and we still miss you but we never forget you." The note next to a picture of Katelyn Messina said: "Mommy misses you so much."
"I came to remember my cousin," said Carol Holland of Baltimore, as she looked for the name of Phillip Wise Jr. on a display of all the victim's names in the wide hall outside the auditorium. "He was stabbed this past year in Howard County. It's good they have this service, for me and everyone in the family. It makes you realize you're not the only one, and yours isn't the only family this has happened to."
Phillip Wise, 47, was stabbed to death in a fight in a Columbia parking lot in September.
Crystal Mason spoke from the stage and said her daughter would have turned 26 on Saturday. Ashley Nicole was 14 years old and a ninth-grader at Long Reach when she was murdered in November 2000. Sunday, her mother led the gathering in the recitation of a work of prose titled, "Say Their Names," which implores the relatives of crime victims to say their names aloud as the months and years pass. "What they are in spirit stirs within us always," it goes. "They are of our past, but they are part of our now. ... Say their names."
Those who gathered for the memorial service heard a similar message from Lisa Spicknall-Horner, a victim of domestic violence and the mother of two children murdered by her former husband, Richard Spicknall. She has been an advocate of crime-victim rights for years and has spoken frequently about what happened to her and her family.
Her daughter, Destiny, was 3, her son, Richie, 2, when they were shot by their father while strapped into their car seats in the back of Richard Spicknall's Jeep near a bridge over the Choptank River on the Eastern Shore in September 1999.
Destiny would have been 16 on Easter Sunday, her mother said, and Richie would have turned 15 in June.
"But instead of looking at cars for Destiny this year, I picked a new candle, more flowers for the cemetery and thought about all of the what-would's," she said. "What would we be doing if you were still alive? Would we be getting our nails done? Would we be shopping? Would we have a surprise party for you? What would your 16th birthday have been like? I now live in the what-would's or what-if's."
She told the long, horrifying story of brutality at the hands of her former husband, finding the courage to leave him, then divorce and freedom from his control, only to have him murder the children on his vacation trip with them to the beach. People in the audience gasped when they heard her say that.
"Even though we now live in the what-would's or the what-ifs," Lisa Spicknall-Horner said, "Destiny and Richie's spirit lives on. ... We look toward the future, we remember them, and celebrate their lives instead of mourning their deaths."