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I sat quietly as the names scrolled across the big screen in the front of the church. Some names I didn’t recognize, but most names I did.
The names were names of those lost to murder, drunk driving and domestic violence, and the gravity of the evening was not lost on this reporter. Many of the names I recognized because I had reported on their deaths.
I knew when and how these victims were taken from their families, but for the first times in many of their stories, I saw the people left behind in the wake of their senseless deaths.
While I spent most of the memorial service struggling to fight back tears, some moments proved too difficult to remain unaffected by the chilling reality of how violence has ruined so many lives.
But even with the overwhelming sadness and grief permeating throughout the church, one could not leave the memorial service without a sense of hope.
For the last 13 years, Justice for Citizens, a victims’ advocacy group founded by Birdie Frink, have hosted the memorial service to remember friends, family and community members who were taken before their time. Frink’s daughter Amy suffered a cruel death at the hands of two men in 1994 when she was just a teenager. One of those men has already been released from prison,
Today, as she has every day since her daughter’s death, Frink fights for justice for victims and peace for their families.
Another mother who has turned her heartache and anguish into a fight for justice is Emily Moose. Moose served as the evening’s “Voice of a Victim,” as she recounted the day more than three years ago when she lost her only son, Scott Gardner.
“On July 16, 2005, my only son and his beautiful family were hit head-on by a six-time DWI offender,” she explained.
The repeat DWI offender, Ramiro Gallegos, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 14-18 years in prison, followed by deportation. But Gallegos had been deported twice before July 16, 2005, Moose said.
“In our quest to extend equal rights to everyone, we’ve removed our own,” she said. Since Gardner’s death, Moose has been an advocate for victims and has been actively pursuing legislation in Congress to combat repeat illegal DWI offenders.
The Scott Gardner Act would provide all law enforcement agencies throughout the country with a national database for DWI offenders. Under the Scott Gardner Act illegal immigrants would be automatically deported upon a first DWI conviction.
Moose said her battle, to protect people from repeat DWI offenders, is her way of keeping Gardner alive.
These two women, and the many other men and women across the country fighting for victims and their families, serve as a beacon of hope for all families struggling to cope after losing a loved one to violence.