SPECIAL COUNSEL Bereavment center offers place to heal


Last year, 4-year-old Marcus Benson drew his picture of heaven on a chalkboard.

It's where his mother is, he told Rosetta Graham, coordinating counselor of the city's 2-year-old Family Bereavement Center, set up to help survivors of homicide victims deal with their loss.

In June, Marcus' mother, Tanja Brown-O'Neal, 29, was killed when a social services client, Arnold Bates, 34, attacked her with a butcher knife while she interviewed him at the Rosemont Multipurpose Center in West Baltimore, police said. Brown-O'Neal was an income maintenance worker.

Since the attack, Marcus and his grandmother, Brenda Brown, have received grief counseling in individual and group sessions at the bereavement center.

A joint project of the Maryland Department of Human Resoures and the city's State's Attorney's Office, the center was established with a budget of $79,000 to offer counseling, court assistance and criminal injuries compensation to family members homicide victims in the city and across the state.

So far, it has assisted about 500 families with things such as counseling and burial services.

Before November's state budget cuts, the governor's criminal compensation board paid for burials. Now center workers ask community leaders and churches for help, said Donald Todd, its director.

At a press conference yesterday, city State's Attorney Stuart Simms, who developed the center's concept, gave DHR's deputy secretary the center's annual report and several yellow and black bereavement center T-shirts that read: "Gone but not forgotten."

Marcus and his grandmother carried a large and colorful thank-you card that he and other children at the center made Tuesday night for DHR.

"The children of the Family Bereavement Center are grateful for your help. Without you we couldn't be a success," the message read.

Baltimore is one of a few cities, including Los Angeles and New York, that provide such services. CBS-TV's new show, "Street Stories" with Ed Bradley, will feature the program tonight at 9 o'clock.

"It works," Mr. Todd said. "It's a program that offers needed assistance to people in a time of great disaster."

With the help of police, the state's attorney's and medical examiner's offices, center workers contact family members within 48 hours of a murder.

"I don't know how the city got along without it," Ms. Graham said.

The loss of a family member to violence is different from losing someone to natural death, she pointed out. With the suddenness of homicides, families expect to see their loved ones walking through the front door again.

"You think you're over it, then you relive the entire event all over again," she said.

Children grieve too, often silently, she said. The loss can affect their grades, cause explosive behaviors and nightmares.

So far, Marcus has done fine, she said. His reaction to his mother's death has been "surprising for a young boy," Ms. Graham said.

His grandmother said the presence of the other 75 children who have also lost a family member to homicide has helped him. Last year, 304 people were killed in Baltimore. The year before that 305.

Survivors at the center were primarily black women grieving over black males between ages 15 and 44 and black females between ages 15 and 30, according to the center's eight-page annual report.

Brenda Brown said the center has helped her live again.

"I feared going out and dealing with people on a daily basis" after her daughter's death, she said. "I was just a bag of water all the time."

bTC Now she's able to talk openly about her loss. She's progressed so much that CBS producers taped her for tonight's show.

"Nothing is the same," however, she said. "You have to find yourself again."


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