Remembering their lost loved ones

The Baltimore Sun

Tears rolled down Thelma Watts' face as she watched the flame of a lavender votive candle flicker inside the glass holder she held in her hands.

The flame represented just a small way to commemorate the life of her son, Anthony Owens-Smith, who was killed in Columbia nearly two years ago.

About 40 people gathered last week at the county government complex in Ellicott City for a memorial ceremony for Howard County crime victims. The event, which was attended by officials from the Howard County state's attorney's office and Police Department, commemorated National Victims' Rights Week.

In addressing the audience Wednesday night, Howard County State's Attorney Dario Broccolino recalled a time when he ran into a victimized family that he had worked with in the past. He said the family members greeted him warmly, despite the fact that the suspect in their case was not convicted.

"It's that kind of thing that really makes this job worth doing," Broccolino said.

Chief William J. McMahon was among those representing the Police Department.

"I think we can't get wrapped up in percentages and numbers," he said, referring to crime statistics. "Behind each of those percentages and numbers is a victim and a family. ... We understand that our job doesn't end when we make an arrest."

In a proclamation, County Executive Ken Ulman made April 13 to 19 National Victims' Rights Week in Howard County. Phyllis Madachy, Ulman's deputy chief administrative officer, represented the county executive at the ceremony.

"I actually think you are people of courage," Madachy said. "You represent hundreds of people who are not yet able to find their voice."

In 1981, then-President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that National Victims' Rights Week be celebrated each April. Criminal justice agencies and other organizations dedicated to helping crime victims hold events around the country to promote victims' rights.

Howard County's ceremony began inside the George Howard Building, then moved outdoors for a candlelight vigil. A flutist played "Lullaby for Alexandra" as the crime victims and their advocates moved to the plaza area.

"If we could just have a moment of silence for a lifetime of memories," Broccolino said as the dozens of people lowered their heads and closed their eyes. Some cried as Linda Davidson sang a ballad a cappella.

I close my eyes, and I see your face. If home's where my heart is, then I'm out of place. Lord, won't you give me the strength to make it through somehow? I've never been more homesick than now.

Watts, who attended the ceremony with her two teenage children, said she and her family partake in the event every year, in part because of the support they've received from the county since her son's death.

"Fortunately, within 24 hours they caught his killer," Watts said. "The victim's advocate who helped me ... she was really there for me and my family. I can't say it was a pleasant experience, but it was better than if we went through it by ourselves."

Other victims' rights advocates also attended the ceremony, including those from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Hazel and Tony Pung said they have been active in the Howard County chapter ever since their daughter and her fiance were killed after being hit by a drunken driver about 20 years ago, just six months before they were scheduled to be married.

"They have helped so much," Hazel Pung said of MADD. "They have really done a tremendous job."

Shirley Harbin, victim witness coordinator in the Howard County State's Attorney's Office, helped organize the ceremony. She has worked with crime victims since 1998 and said that each family becomes "like a lifelong friend."

"To me, it's just being able to help the family of a murdered victim through the system and just being able to listen. We just have kind, loving individuals working in this field. We're here to help people," she added.

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