Crime victims remember during candlelight service
By PHOEBE ROBINSON/For the Reporter
COLUMBIANA — More than 100 crosses, each representing a victim killed by violent crime, covered the lawn of Shelby Christain Fellowship on Main Street in Columbiana this week.
Bobby Hilyer lovingly made, painted and placed each cross on the church lawn. Hilyer’s son was murdered in 2000 and is a member of VOCAL -— Victims of Crime and Leniency.
“VOCAL is an organization that does not want new members,” said Hilyer. “Violence does not discriminate.”
VOCAL is a non-profit organization established for the purpose of improving the quality of justice for victims of crime, founded in 1982 by Miriam Shehane, whose daughter was murdered in 1976. After seven trials in five years, Shehane realized victims and their families need advocates to help them in their time of grief, and laws need to be changed to protect the victim and their families. For the last 30 years, Shehane and VOCAL grass roots volunteers have dedicated their lives to helping victims of crime. Twenty three victim rights laws have also been passed.
The church was filled to capacity as family, law enforcement officers and district attorneys met on Monday, April 22, for a poignant Candlelight Service led by Shelby County VOCAL President Mitzie Wheat to remember those victims whose lives were cut too short by ruthless violence.
Chief Chaplain the Rev. Mac Stinson, Shelby County Law Enforcement Chaplain’s Association, gave the invocation. Remarks were given by Shelby County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy John Samaniego, VOCAL State Director Janette Grantham and Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Alan Miller. Keynote speaker was State Rep. Paul DeMarco, who represents District 46, who shared his own experience of a friend who was murdered while interning for Sen. Richard Shelby in Washington D.C.
District Attorney Douglas Valeska, 20th Judicial Circuit, presented three special Voice for Victim Awards to: VOCAL Past President Johnnie Doss Page; Calera Deputy Chief Clint Barnett; and Assistant D.A. Miller. The Rev. Rod Davidson, pastor of Shelby Christian Fellowship, gave the benediction.
After the service, attendees surrounded the crosses holding lighted candles as blue and gold balloons were released into the dark sky, honoring loved ones gone but never forgotten.