Murder victims in Utah will not be forgotten if the organizers of a vigil today have anything to say about it.
The Parents of Murdered Children of Utah plan a memorial and candlelight vigil for anyone who has lost a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor to another's homicidal violence.
The event will be 7 p.m. tonight at the International Peace Gardens, 100 S. 900 West in Salt Lake City. Anyone can participate and can bring photos or reminders of their lost loved ones.
Parents of Murdered Children was started in 1978 by Charlotte and Bob Hullinger after their daughter, Lisa, was killed in Cincinnati. The organization's name is a bit confusing the nonprofit group exists to help anyone whose life has been touched by murder, not just parents who have lost children.
It now has chapters nationwide and the Utah chapter was created last year.
Many people who have experienced the death of a loved one say that grief support groups can be quite helpful in the healing process.
However, survivors whose loved ones were taken by the brutal violence of another sometimes say that their sorrow and feelings are very different from someone who lost a loved one to natural causes. That is the gap that Parents of Murdered Children is hoping to fill.
"It's our mission to help survivors to cope with their grief," said Rose Maree Sazesh, who leads the Utah chapter. Her son, Brandon Sazesh, 30, was shot to death in 2004.
"Monthly support groups are held where members can freely and safely express their feelings, emotions and experiences with other members who have shared the same experiences," Sazesh.
Brandy Farmer, public information director for the Utah chapter, is all too familiar with surviving murder. Farmer also serves on the Domestic-Violence Related Death Committee of the Utah Domestic Violence Council.
Three of her relatives died by homicide in California:
• Dimitri Paiz, 18, a nephew, who was stabbed to death in 1981. No one was convicted in that case.
• Cynthia Valadez, 19, a niece who was stabbed to death by her estranged husband in 1986 in front of their young children. The man got a seven-year prison term and now has been released.
• Orville Jernigan, 30, another nephew, who was shot to death by two 19-year-old girls who had gone on a killing spree and murdered several people. They each got prison terms of life without parole.
Farmer discovered Parents of Murdered Children and thought it would be a great help for her mourning family as well as for her because losing someone to homicide is so different that only those who have experienced it can really relate.
"We call it a grief like no other," Farmer said.
If an elderly grandmother dies of natural causes after a long illness, the family mourns, but somehow that loss can eventually be accepted even though the pain is very real, Farmer said. But when a loved one is murdered, "They are taken from us unjustly, suddenly, and it is a grief that has anger, rage, pain, blame. We blame ourselves, too. We ask ourselves, 'What could I have done? How could I have protected whoever it was that was killed?"'
The Parents of Murdered Children organization offers a safe place for anyone who has experienced such a loss to come together and communicate. "They can be angry, they can come and tell funny stories about their loved one, they can be sad and cry and we'll all cry together. It's a place where people are united," she said.
Farmer recalled learning of one Utah woman whose child had been killed at age 9 and whose co-workers eventually complained to their boss about this woman discussing her child around them because it made them uncomfortable.
That will not happen at meetings of Parents of Murdered Children. "Anyone is welcome, whether you lost someone in Utah or lost a loved one in another state," she said. "It is a safe haven where you can come and talk about your loved one, whether the murder was 25 years ago or three days ago."
Saturday's memorial will feature talks by survivors. Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, will give the keynote address and read a proclamation by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and the names of murder victims provided by people who contacted the organization earlier or who are in attendance that evening will be read aloud. There will be music, and participants will light candles and observe a moment of silence in memory of those who were lost.Those who want more information about the organization can find it at www.pomc.com.
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