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“Speaking for the dead is an awesome responsibility,” said Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David.
It is also something David holds close to his heart.
One of the first things David did as D.A. of the N.C. 13th Judicial District in January 2010 was establish a Homicide Family Support Group. He did so with the help of Sharon Alford, victim’s witness legal assistant.
Initially the D.A.’s office thought one group would serve the needs of the entire Judicial District, which encompasses Brunswick, Columbus and Bladen counties. They quickly realized there was a bigger need than they could have imagined and started separate groups based on geography.
David and Alford worked together with a similar group in Wilmington for nearly 10 years before coming to work in Brunswick County.
“There is strength in a shared experience,” David said. “The group connects families who have experienced loss at the hands of a criminal act.”
David and Alford explained there is a different component to suffering and loss when it is a result of a criminal act.
“It’s a whole separate set of dynamics,” David said.
“It is different when you have a tragedy that isn’t expected,” said Gil Bass, father-in-law of Adam Bradshaw, the Shallotte Realtor who was murdered in 2008. “It throws your life into more of a shock.”
Speaking for the dead is a “legal duty and a moral obligation” for David.
“It’s not only about what happens in the courtroom, it’s about ministering to the needs of the loss,” he said.
“HFSG offers support to those who have lost a loved one to violence. Unfortunately, when violence takes someone, families and friends are not only left with the sadness of their loss, but also with the often confusing process of law enforcement investigations and the court system,” Alford said. “In addition to their loss, they are thrown into a unfamiliar criminal justice system.”
“You have to go through the stages of grief,” Bass said. “Grief is good and natural. It is a God-given emotion and when you go through it you realize it is a good thing, it’s a relief. You have to have it to get rid of sorrow. It is a long lasting emotion and you never get over the situation but it helps you deal with the past and the present.”
Bass and his daughter Shannon Bradshaw began attending meetings when the group formed and have experienced the support system that develops. Every day of the more than four-and-a half week trial for Adam Bradshaw’s murderer, members of the support group showed up in court to offer support, love and strength.
“It is such a support for other victims who have been through a similar experience to come together,” Shannon Bradshaw said. “There are people who have gone through what you are going through. A big part of it for me was first just going around other people who were going through the same thing.”
“A person who goes to that group will find a connection to that group, a feeling of peace. It helps in the healing process,” Bass said.
David says the group is emblematic of one of the things his office is doing to bring a coordinated regional approach to fighting crime in the area. At the first meeting there were more than 74 people in attendance and the D.A.’s office knew immediately, they needed to offer a smaller group atmosphere.
“There is nothing more important than the big cases/issues that face the region,” David said.
And he wants to make sure the D.A.’s office is involved every step of the way. For Bass and Shannon Bradshaw, the D.A.’s involvement offered them a sense of comfort.
“I knew at the end of the day before there was even a verdict that the D.A.’s office did everything in their power,” Bass said. “The whole team worked like an intricate Swiss watch. Everyone from Jon David and Sharon Alford to Lee Bollinger, Sam Davis, David Crocker, Gene and Tony Caison, they all worked so hard on this case. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to go through, but it was as good as it could be.”
The Homicide Family Support Group and the D.A.’s office is working with Birdie Frink and Justice for Citizens to bring the 17th Justice for Citizens Annual Candlelight Service this Friday to fruition. The service is 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 at First Baptist Church at 517 Village Road in Leland.
The support group meetings are generally once every two months from 6-8 p.m. at the Brunswick Community College North Campus in Leland.
For more information, call Alford at 253-4122. The group isn’t limited to Brunswick County or the 13th Judicial District; anyone may attend.