The annual Harford County SARC candlelight vigil to remember domestic violence victims drew a smaller, though nevertheless determined, turnout this year to Frederick Ward Park at the Bel Air Reckord Armory.
About 25 people came to the Tuesday evening vigil, which usually gets many dozens more attendees. Luisa Caiazzo-Nutter, executive director of the group, whose acronym stands for "Safety, Awareness, Resources, Change," said this year's turnout definitely does not indicate less interest in supporting SARC.
"I think there's no rhyme or reason to it," she said about attendance, noting the group's annual Family Fun Day last month drew 3,200 participants this year, compared with 2,700 in 2011.
"I definitely appreciate that people did come out," Caiazzo-Nutter said following the ceremony. "I definitely feel that we have seen that as we have gotten reductions from government sources, that community support has increased."
The park was filled with 32 chairs labeled with the names of victims who died from domestic violence in Maryland this year.
It also included the Silent Witness Initiative from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County, which features cutout silhouettes representing victims.
Volunteers also held up cardboard silhouettes colorfully decorated by victims of violence, and T-shirts designed by survivors were hung on a clothesline.
Efforts to fight domestic violence continue to grow, Tracey Delp, of the State's Attorney's Office, told the crowd.
"Years ago, we didn't talk about stalkers and prosecuting stalkers like we do today," Delp said, adding that people also did not talk about teen violence or have computer codes to identify individual criminal histories related to domestic violence.
Sheriff Jesse Bane said efforts should also focus more on elder abuse, explaining that the deaths of some elderly people have had to be investigated because they were a result of abuse or neglect at the hands of their caretakers, who were family members.
Bane also told a personal story about his uncle, who "drank himself into a stupor every night and beat my aunt. They had nine children."
Bane recalled when his parents let him spend one night at his uncle's home. He said his cousins warned him to hide under the bed or the covers when their father came home.
When he asked them why they did not tell their father to stop beating their mother, they said, "We try to stop him, but when we try, he beats us, too."
"That is a terrible life for children to live and to experience and to witness," Bane said, adding that children who are victims of domestic violence are likely to become abusers.
Bane said although Harford County had a 24 percent decrease in violent crime last year, domestic violence incidents increased slightly.
The county had 624 reports of domestic violence in 2011 compared to 595 in 2010, he said. The five-year average for the county is 614 incidents annually.
"Are we doing a better job in getting our victims to report domestic violence?" Bane asked the crowd. "Are we doing a better job if we want our county, our state and our country to be free of domestic violence? There's room for improvement in both areas."
State Sen. Barry Glassman and Del. Susan McComas also spoke, with McComas saying society "needs to better learn to problem solve."
County Executive David Craig was briefly in attendance. The Fallston High School Vocal Ensemble sang "We Are One" and "Pre Jesu," Shannon Sullivan read a poem called "My Free Will" and the Rev. Lisa Ward, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, said the benediction.
Brittany Anthony and Amber Guthrie read the names of each victim before attendees lit their candles and reflected on the lives lost.