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Maryland families remember lost loved ones at crime victim memorial service

Annette Gibson was so concerned with keeping her son, Gregory Eugene Riddick Jr., safe from violence in Baltimore that she sent him to live with his father on the Eastern Shore.

The 26-year-old returned to the city to visit her just a few weeks before Christmas. His father dropped him off at 3 p.m., she said. By 1 a.m., he was dead — shot on Harford Road in Northeast Baltimore.

"He hadn't been here 24 hours," she said. "They killed him. No mother should have to bury her child."

Dozens of families attended the 28th annual Statewide Crime Victims' Memorial Service in the Catonsville High School auditorium Sunday to remember their loved ones and share their stories. The ceremony coincided with the beginning of National Victims' Rights Week, which promotes the role of victims and their families in the criminal justice system.

Thousands of names of those killed in the state's northern region — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Harford and Howard counties and Baltimore City — were projected onto a screen during the service and printed on red, white and blue stars hanging from a wall in the hallway outside the auditorium. Attendees were invited to the front to say their family members' names. Several teared up while doing so. Simultaneous events were to be held in other regions around the state.

Bridget Marshall, community development coordinator for the One Love Foundation, told families that while the hurt never fully goes away, they can choose to channel it into positive action that can help others.

"We have all been on the the receiving end of that phone call, that text message, that in-person conversation," Marshall said. "It rocks you to your core, and it changes the way you see the world."

The foundation — created by the mother of Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia lacrosse player from Cockeysville who was killed by her former boyfriend, George Huguely V, in 2010 — teaches healthy relationship skills and raises awareness of relationship violence.

One in three women experience relationship violence in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After her death, Love's family "could not stay silent on this epidemic," Marshall said.

"You too can leave a positive impact for the memory of your loved ones," Marshall said.

Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford touted the Hogan administration's "Justice for Victims Initiative," a sweeping package of anti-crime legislation, and delivered a proclamation from the governor declaring this week Crime Victims' Rights Week in Maryland.

"I want you to know, within our administration, you will always find an open door and a seat at the table," the lieutenant governor said.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said the criminal justice system has made great strides in including victims and their families in the process, but "we can always do better."

"As prosecutors, we refer to all our cases by the defendant's name," Shellenberger said. "We often don't remember the victim's name."

Tonica Peace's sons, Tyree and DeAngelo Cyprus, were killed nearly four years apart. Both Baltimore men were 19, and both left behind young sons of their own, she said. "They were both just outgoing young men," she said.

Attending Sunday's memorial service was Peace's way of "keeping their memory alive," she said.

Yvonne Simmons, of Roberta's House, a survivor's advocacy program, said having the chance to say a murder victim's name into the microphone can be cathartic for their family members.

"Somebody's listening," she said. "Everybody here has got something in common: They all lost a loved one."

Doris Gray, 59, of Upton, and Jeannette Simon, 63, of Gwynn Oak, sat together during the service.

Gray's 33-year-old son, Michael Randolph Harris, was gunned down on Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore on Dec. 6. Police believe it was a robbery, she said, but have no leads or suspects in the case. Simon's grandson, Ananias Jolley, a 17-year-old student, was killed in a high-profile stabbing in a Baltimore high school in November 2015.

The two women met through Roberta's House, and became friends as they worked together to cope with their grief.

"It gives you insight into how to deal with life after death, so to speak," Simon said.

"You're with kindred spirits," Gray said. "We comfort each other."

As people slowly trickled out of the auditorium, Simon said she hopes for an end to violence one day.

"Eventually when you have these events, this room should be empty, not full," Simon said. "That's our goal."

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

@cmcampbell6

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