Parents of the Murdered Use Candles, Flowers and Words to Keep Memories of Fallen Loved Ones Alive

Categories: Crime-iny, Main
An organization that supports survivors, friends and families who have lost their loved ones to violence held their 19th annual ceremony Sunday evening that they hope will increase public awareness about victims' rights.

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.
Photos by Monica Luhar/OC Weekly
A quilt honors the memories of those who have been murdered in Orange County.
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.

Lights to remember those who have fallen.
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.

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There are no words that can deliver the pain, the gut-wretched-twisted ache you have each day, each hour, each moment, from the act of a human being making a choice to end the life of another. There are no words in this English language that can even come close.... Monica, thank you for doing such a great job on the way you wrote up this article. This IS an awareness. My son, too, was murdered in Oct. of 2006. His name is Jesse. 24 years old. I miss him so much, so very much, that it just hurts so bad. We need the killers to be held accountable to a much higher degree than they do now. We need leadership to enforce tougher laws. Articles such as this is greatly needed and to be put in the publics awareness. I never had heard of POMC, til Jesse's murder. At that time, I was told about it from a friend of my moms. My reaction, 4 months after Jesse's murder was, "How could anyone at POMC know how I feel? They haven't a clue!" But you know something? I couldn't have made it thus far without my "extended" family. I love them all dearly. They are so special. They UNDERSTAND and FEEL as I do. My own family doesn't "get it"! Thank you again Monica, you are one heck of a reporter~

Lena Gonzalez
Lena Gonzalez

Thank you so much for taking time to help us keep our loved ones memory alive!!! We will always be there voice when other people move on or forget about them.....WE WILL FOREVER MAKE SURE THAT THEY ARE REMEMBERED!THANK YOU MONICA!!!!

Foever sis of J.D.(Jonathan Dizon)Lena Gonzalez


Thank you Monica for doing such a good job reporting this event. POMC is such a great organization that helps many people deal with grief and loss of murdered love ones. My daughter-in-law, Yolanda Meraz, was murdered in June '06. It sometimes is very hard for people to understand what the survivors of murdered loved ones go through. This Candle Light Vigil was done so beautifully in our lost loved ones memories. The love we all have for our lost loved ones was very evident at this Vigil. Things like this are much needed for the survivors. Our loved ones will never be forgotten!


I want to thank Monica Luhar for her sensitive article and the manner in which she got her information. The respect she showed all of us survivors was so admirable and appreciated. I want to thank the OC Weekly for having the courage to help us "speak for those who no longer have a voice." Part of the pain of the aftermath of murder is the isolation due to the fact that our society doesn't want to hear about us. I commend OC Weekly for being true journalists by bringing to light the truth in a perceptive, insightful manner. It is healing for all of us who have had a loved one murdered to be "seen" and "heard". That can only have a positive effect for all of society. Thank you again.

debra dizon hernandez
debra dizon hernandez

I am the parent of a murder child, taken way too soon he didn't asked to me murder! I think it's important to bring awarness and help other that might have have to walk in our shoes one day. Thank you for writting about our Candle light vigil, it was very touching and well done. Debra Dizon -Hernandez


Thank you Monica so much for putting this up. I was the one who released the doves. My mother Yolanda Meraz was stabbed to death in 2006 . it's such a wonderful thing to have POMC and be around people who understand this certain type of greif. I know it's sad and nobody wants to hear about it, but murder can affect anyone at any time - I sure never thought in my wildest nightmares it would affect me. As survivors of loved ones who have died by violence we feel like nobody wants to hear about them anymore.. Thank you for giving us and our loved ones a voice

Missing someone I love
Missing someone I love

What a beautiful way to end National Crime Victims' Rights Week 2011. The love was felt and the caring was extended to everyone. Very nice article and pictures!


Johnny was a great kid. I remember his smile and his energy on the football field as a young kid. I have a picture of him and my son Brandon at their 8th grade graduation. R.I.P. Johnny you are gone but never forgotten.

Joe Cool

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