17th Annual Homicide Vigil Underscored by Recent Violence
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Dec 7, 2012, 13:34
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Police Chief John Keohane lit a candle for victims of homicide at Thursday vigil to remember them.
As a somber crowd assembled in front of the Hopewell Court House on Thursday night, Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane was well aware that the reason for the evening had been underscored by the events of recent weeks.
“Tonight is about remembrance, especially during this holiday season, of our loved ones who have been lost due to senseless violence on the streets,” he said, welcoming the family and friends of homicide victims to the 17th annual Homicide Memorial Candlelight Vigil, sponsored by the Central Virginia Victims Services Coalition.
In the three weeks since Thanksgiving, Keohane said, there have been six homicides in Central Virginia. With the tragedy of the double shooting at Piper Square in Hopewell still fresh, Keohane noted that even as the crowd was gathering in Ashford Civic Plaza, police in Petersburg were working a new shooting scene.
He said that bringing closure to people struggling with the missing place left by homicides is what drives his work as Chief of Police. He urged anyone with information about crimes to come forward, as happened after the murder of Kirk Webb, Jr.
Witnesses testified at the trial of Webb’s alleged killer, who was pronounced guilty in August.
“That’s why I ask people to speak, step forward,” Keohane said. “You do not want this to happen to you, and if this happened to you, you would want the same thing to happen, for people to come forward who have witnessed these murders and to bring closure to families. That’s what it’s all about.”
Keohane spoke in front of an evergreen tree that was lit in honor of the memory of homicide victims. Family and friends lined up place red ribbons on the tree, some people speaking the name of the person the ribbon was dedicated to, some staying silent.
Elizabeth Bernhard, Director of the Victim Witness Program for Chesterfield County said that while she saw faces that had become familiar over the last 17 years, she also saw new ones, something that she wished wasn’t the case.
“This time, as always, I lament the fact that every single year, we send out more invitations,” she said. “And there’s no reason for it. Not a single person here should have to be here.”
The group clutching memorial candles was surrounded by preparations for the city’s holiday tree lighting, which, Bernhard said spoke to the reason for the vigil’s placement on the calendar.
“The reason we have this now, and some people think it’s odd that we have such a gathering during the holidays, when do you miss that loved one the most? At the holidays. It’s impossible to be with friends and family and not see that missing place,” she said.
She asked individuals still grieving for their own loved ones to help bring peace to a community stinging from recent outbursts of violence.
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson Family and friends of homicide victims lit candles in their honor on Thursday.
“Respect their memory by sharing love, not hate. Hate will only bring more of us here next year. Through you, they live on,” she said, referring to the men and women for whom the candles were lit and the ribbons tied. “Make that living memory an honor.”