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Community organizations honor homicide victims

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Last year, Indianapolis had 135 criminal homicides. That unenviable number landed the Circle City at the number nine spot on The Daily Beast’s list of America’s Top 10 Murder Capitols for 2014.

In honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week—a nationwide annual observance that promotes victims’ rights and honors victims of violent crime— the Survivors of Violent Death Support Group, as well as Legacy House, a local non-profit that provides counseling and advocacy services for victims of violence at no cost, unveiled a Victims of Homicide Memorial in the Central Library Atrium. Those murdered in Indianapolis are represented by 135 pairs of shoes.

Presiding over the temporary exhibit, which also had support from the Domestic Violence Network, the Church Federation of Indianapolis, and Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, is the Sheriff’s Office Peace Dove, a 9-foot metal sculpture constructed using parts from confiscated firearms.

The memorial exhibit represents an attempt by organizers to restore dignity to murder victims.

“One of the things that happens a lot when a homicide is being reported is all too often the victim is blamed in some way shape or form for their own homicide,” said Michael Hurst, executive director of the Legacy House, who noted that police “mug shots” of victims are often supplied to media.

“We, being the collective community, always try to feel safer by somehow making the person who died somewhat responsible for their own death,” he pointed out. “What that ignores are the people left behind.”

Furthermore, as the many different types and sizes of shoes in the exhibit demonstrate, Indianapolis murder victims represent all ages, from infants to the elderly.

The unveiling was the first of four events held to increase public awareness of the rights and services available to those victimized by crime. Other events included a public forum on sexual assault and its portrayal in the media; the 11th annual ROCC -a- Thon held April 23 on Monument Circle; and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes on April 25 at 11 a.m. An event in which men don high heels and walk from the Wood Plaza Fountain to raise awareness about sexual and gender related violence. (Women and children are invited to participate as well, but for them, heels are optional.)

“This year’s theme, ‘Engaging Communities. Empowering Victims,’ reminds us of the importance to create a victim response system that is open and accessible to all survivors and victims of crime,” said Joye Frost, director of the Office of Victims of Crime for the U.S. Department of Justice in a press release.

Indianapolis mother Stephanie Rader shared her experience of losing her son Joe McSweeney to violent crime four years ago. Rader recalled seeing McSweeney’s mud-covered work shoes lying by the door the night of his death. “Those shoes were a very painful reminder that Joe would never wear them again,” she said.

This feeling is one that Hurst knows all too well, as his older brother was murdered when he was just 9 years old. “There is no closure,” he said. “People think there is going to be closure at certain stages but there never is—you grieve things that happen to you, not just the losses you have.”

Rader said it was important for her to share the story of her tragic loss with others. “(I’m here to) help represent the 135 people whose dreams were stopped right in their shoes. All their hopes and dreams, all their family’s hopes and dreams,” she said. “All of these people are loved by many people.”

The Legacy House, located in the lower level of the Eskenazi North Arlington Health Center, offers individual and family counseling, crisis intervention, violent crime compensation information and assistance, victim advocacy services and other services free of charge.

For more information on the Legacy House, visit Legacy-house.org.

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