Parents of the Murdered Use Candles, Flowers and Words to Keep Memories of Fallen Loved Ones Alive
Prior to the 6 p.m. Candlelight Vigil and Names Dedication Ceremony at Memory Garden Memorial Park in Brea, family members, victims' rights advocates, and members of the Greater Orange County Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) crowded around the main marble monument inscribed with the words, "Dedicated to those who lost their lives in violent crimes."
Each placed candles, roses and other flowers near the dedicated names etched on marble.
Marie Belmontez became involved with POMC when her nephew Stephen Sanchez was murdered in the year 2000. She is now the Orange County chapter leader, and her goals are to honor Sanchez's memory and spread awareness about violence and the many innocent lives being taken away.
During the ceremony, Belmontez introduced the board of directors: Anita Lewis, Carol McVeigh, Lena Gonzalez, Gail Currier, Laura Gardhouse--each of whom had lost loved ones to violence.
Paul Paulsen led the remainder of the ceremony. Paulsen had devastatingly lost his sister Debbie Paulsen, on July 12, 1976, to the highly publicized California State University, Fullerton massacre that was planned out by killer Edward Charles Allaway. In discussing National Crime Victims' Rights Week, Paulsen stated, "Several organizations have held events throughout this week. The purpose of these events is to send a strong message that we, the survivors, must continue to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves."
The invocation was then led by Chaplain Brad Stetson, who is an author and educator at Cal State Long Beach.
To lighten up the mood amongst such a heavy topic, Paulsen later posed a question for the audience: "What do Betty Crocker and POMC have in common?" She then explained that, this year, POMC is fund-raising by letting families and friends send in recipes that their loved ones enjoyed in hopes of compiling a book to sustain the memories of all of the individuals.
Among many of the guest speakers, Todd Spitzer, a former Orange County prosecutor, state assemblyman and supervisor (who has announced he is running to rejoin the board). But the capacity that rang most true for POMC members were his roles as chairman and director of legal affairs with the statewide Marsy's law campaign, the so-called Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008.
Spitzer spoke about the justice system and how he lost his chief of staff and Orange City Councilman Steven Ambriz, who died in 2006 from a driver under the influence of drugs and alcohol. When Spitzer received the chilling phone call about Ambriz' death, he couldn't believe it.
During the speech, Spitzer held up a shattered side-view mirror from Ambriz's car, symbolizing how for many people, their lives will never be the same.
"It's shattered," Spitzer said. "Our lives have been shattered. And so we have choices. Difficult and terrible choices. Because all of us have been immediately thrown in a criminal justice system that is not necessarily just. The crime victim is always perceived as the redheaded stepchild. The person that is seen but not heard. We've come a long way. But we have a long way to go."
Several white doves were released by Megan Bufford, whose mother Yolanda Meraz was murdered. Along with the release of the doves, bagpiper Piper Fahrney performed with singers and friends of POMC, including Matt Villa and Holly Pitrago.
Chris Lewis, who lost his sister Mary Lewis and grandfather Lester Lewis to violence, read a poem entitled, "Gone Too Soon" highlighting the tragic truth about losing someone too soon:
"[. . .] Like the loss of sunlight on a cloudy afternoon, gone too soon. Like a castle built up on a sandy beach, gone too soon. Like a perfect flower that is just beyond our reach, gone too soon. Our loved ones were born to amuse, to delight, to inspire. Here one day, gone at night. Like a sun set dying with the rising of the moon, gone too soon."
Family, friends and advocates of victims' rights clenched each others' hands, offering tissues, hugs and smiles for support during the ceremony as the main candle was lit in front of the beautiful marble monument.