Silent Witness Unveiling ceremony

Congregant Diane Detrick, right, reads the plaque for 11-weeks-old Robert Paul Burris, Jr., killed in 2000. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County held its Silent Witness Unveiling ceremony today, as the congregation uncovered 15 plywood silhouettes lined up along Churchville Road to remember Harford County victims of domestic violence. Each life-sized silhouette has a plaque to tell the name and story of each victim. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun / October 5, 2013)

The members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County think victims of domestic violence — and their tragic deaths — are often forgotten.

To remind people, they have lined the front lawn of the fellowship building with life-sized red figures, each representing a victim of domestic violence in Harford County over the past two decades.

The 15 wooden figures, visible from heavily traveled Churchville Road, will remain in place through October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Church members held a ceremony Sunday to unveil the statues, part of the Silent Witness National Initiative, a program started in Minnesota in 1990. The red figures, organizers said, are the "silent witnesses" of domestic violence. Each includes the story and name of a victim.


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"It is important to lift up awareness," said the Rev. Lisa Ward, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. "Complacency often keeps us from remembering that this is an important issue."

Organizers said they hope curious passersby will stop to see what the figures symbolize. The Silent Witness program aims to get the attention of victims before it's too late — or give pause to those thinking of hurting someone. To the left of the figures is a banner with contact information for a local nonprofit where people can get help.

During the ceremony, the names of 20 victims were read to the congregation. Ward rang a blue cow bell after each name.

The victims came from diverse backgrounds, as young as age 2 months and as old as 54 years. They were men and women; mothers and sons.

Church members then walked silently to the roadside where the figures were covered in black cloths. They prayed for each person before unveiling the figures. "Together we can move mountains," they sang. "Alone we can't move at all."

As the figures were unveiled, a man on Harley-Davidson motorcycle rode by and beeped his support.

One of the figurines represented the story of Michael C. Allendorf of Joppatown, who was killed in 1994 in a plot involving his fiance, her mother and another man. Another told the story of Crystal Marie Busta of Edgewood, who in 2005 was shot by her boyfriend, who later pleaded guilty to killing her.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County began its silent witness project in 2001 with a grant from Harford Community College used to build 10 figures. Since then, five additional figures have been added.

Tommy Gappen of Bel Air, 53, said she was moved by the display.

"It is a visual tribute to people whose lives have been taken from a family member in sheer terror," Gappen said. "It lets people know that domestic violence is real."

Michael Dixon, a 50-year-old project manager, looked pained as he gazed at the display.

"I just don't understand it," he said. "It makes no sense. Because you don't agree with someone, you kill them?"

"I hope this opens up people's eyes," he said.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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