CONCORD, N.H. — They came together through fate, force and violence. They answered the phone call in the middle of the night, the knock at the door.
As one mother of a slain son said, "It's the club you don't want to be in."
At New Hampshire's 25th annual Crime Victims' Rights Day ceremony, the dead smiled from photographs and quilts, and people who have survived or been left behind by violence sobbed as they touched the images and listened to officials discuss their courage and interminable grief.
Gathered at St. Paul's Church in Concord on Tuesday, family members of those who were murdered or killed in tragic accidents shared condolences as the 2012 victims' quilt was unveiled. It features patches memorializing 16 people whose lives were violently cut short.
Jeff and Alberta Flanders of Colebrook focused their gaze on a patch bearing a collage of photos in tribute to their 21-year-old son Justin Flanders, who was shot to death in November 2010.
"He was our youngest, and just a big teddy bear to everyone," sobbed Alberta Flanders, who made the reference to the club of survivors. "We know how the other people feel. Unfortunately, there are a lot of us out there."
The somber ceremony capped an unusually bloody month in New Hampshire, with eight people killed, five perpetrators dead and five people wounded since April 7.
"We know the ripple effect victimization causes ... the repercussions in our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools," Attorney General Michael Delaney said.
There was a moment of silence for Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney, killed in a hail of gunfire April 12 as he and four drug task force members tried to serve arrest and search warrants on a couple suspected of selling hundreds of oxycodone tablets a week.
Sisters Beth Melanson and Eva Madden supported each other and wept as they stared at the newly unveiled quilt. Each has a child on it — Jason Melanson and Emily Eve Madden — killed in separate car accidents within six weeks of each other in 2010. Their pictures on the quilt were linked by the single word, "Cousins."
"It's hard to be in a room where we're all connected by pain, trauma and loss," said Pat Rainboth, executive director of Victims Inc.
Gov. John Lynch reassured the crowd that despite the recent spate of violence, New Hampshire continues to be the safest state in the nation.
"I have enormous respect and appreciation and admiration for our law enforcement officers," Lynch said.
The state's victims' advocates were also recognized for the role they play.Comment on this story
"What we do is incredibly difficult, painful and exhausting," said Kimberly France, director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "We do it because we want to make a difference."
Chief advocate Sandi Matheson of the attorney general's office said the state has come a long way in the past quarter-century, since the days when families of murder victims had to pay the cost of their burial and rape victims had to foot the bill for evidence collection and processing. But the passage of time also means the ranks of those in the room continue to swell.
"Each year I look out in the crowd and each year I see new faces — new survivors and new victims," said Matheson, who has been a victim advocate for 25 years.
Tuesday's ceremony and memorial service took place amid National Victims' Rights Week, April 22-28.