By Joshua Winata
The Cove Herald
In the warm evening outside of Lea Ledger Auditorium, a chorus of voices rang out in celebration of justice and freedom on Thursday:
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
The wind blew steadily as participants attempted a candlelight vigil “to celebrate progress in crime victims’ rights and services and to build public awareness about the many challenges victims still face in the aftermath of crime,” Coryell County Crime Victims’ Coordinator Amy Perkins said. The slim, white candles would not stay lit in the breeze, but the hope that the flames represented would not be so easily extinguished.
“I admire all of you for your strength and courage,” Perkins said. “You are not just a statistic, you are not just a victim — you are a survivor, and you are an inspiration to each one of us here tonight.”
A Celebration of Crime Victims’ Rights, held annually as part of the 2008 Crime Victims’ Rights Week from April 13 to 19, brought together local residents for an inspirational evening of speakers, slide shows and musical performances by the Martin Walker Elementary School choir and vocalist Jill Charles.
“It helps bring strength to other people who have gone through this. They say there’s strength in unity. It also helps us conquer and get over the pain and the hurt when you’re able to talk about it or know that somebody else cares,” featured speaker Sandra Love of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said. “You know that somebody else feels your pain, and they’ve got your back.”
Love’s own story of loss and pain began in 2000 on Thanksgiving Day. As she and her family drove down U.S. Highway 190 in Killeen, a 19-year-old drunk driver struck the vehicle carrying Love’s parents, Royal and Arthurine Bryant, and her two children.
“My dreams were shattered Thanksgiving night,” said Love, as she described running down the embankment on the side of the road and confronting the grisly scene of death.
Her daughter, Lakeshia Chapman, 15, was a rising high school star, involved in basketball, volleyball, track, cheerleading and the student council. A piece of metal had sliced through her head in the collision, instantly rendering her brain dead.
Love’s son, Tyzchwon Hill, was only five years old and aspired to be cowboy and professional bullrider.
“He had big dreams,” Love said. “When I looked in the backseat, his neck was broke. My son was dead.”
Love recalled the loneliness and helpless despair of the situation as both her personal and professional life spiraled downward. But Love’s story ended with a message hope and faith as she began traveling the country as a spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“Instead of becoming a victim, I became a mouthpiece to the nation,” Love said. “I do believe in justice, justice for all. One day, the lion will lie down with the sheep.”
“If they would just hold on, ‘weeping may endure for a night, but the joy will come in the morning,’” she added, quoting a Bible verse from Psalm 30.
Coryell County Judge Firth, who delivered the welcome statements, charged the community with a “special mission” to protect and immediately meet the needs of victims of crime.
“The reality is that most crime that we experience in our community happens day in and day out with little fanfare,” he said.
Firth challenged each person to think about what they can do to move closer to “the ideal of justice for all.” Beyond offering moral support, he encouraged citizens to increase awareness and understanding on judicial system and compensation programs.
During the celebration, Investigator Lori Hix of the Copperas Cove Police Department was honored as the Victim Advocate of the Year. Students from local elementary schools also received awards for their work in a crime victims rights poster contest. The winning posters from each grade level were displayed in the lobby during the celebration.
Cove resident Mindy Cole said she came to the Celebration of Crime Victims Rights simply to watch her daughter sing in the choir, but she left profoundly impacted by the speakers and presentation.
“I didn’t actually know what it was about,” Cole said. “They told us that after the eight minutes of their singing we could go, but when I found what it was about, I couldn’t leave because I’m a victim myself.”
Cole said she has struggled with domestic violence in the past but has since overcome it.
“It’s amazing the things that people go through and where they come to when they overcome,” she said. “It’s very emotional for me.”
Contact Joshua Winata at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7476