Family, friends remember those lost to murder
Two members of the Rochester Police Department Honor Guard slowly proceeded around Heritage Hall on Thursday evening, crisply removing black sheets from 33 plaques bearing the names of more than 3,840 homicide victims.
At each one, the honor guard slowly saluted the list of names — names of daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, some killed as bystanders, others by ex-boyfriends.
This series of plaques — "The Murder Wall … Honoring Their Memories" — was started in 1987 to serve as a memorial to loved ones lost to homicide. The unveiling in Rochester began the 28th annual Parents of Murdered Children National Conference taking place Thursday to Sunday at the Kahler Grand Hotel.
"The wall is a tangible and visible reminder that murder can and does touch everyone," said the national group's executive director, Dan Levey.
In 2011, more than 16,000 people died by homicide in the U.S., more than 11,000 of those from firearm homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Parents of Murdered Children offers support to family and friends dealing with the murder of a loved one.
For the southeastern Minnesota chapter leader Connie Sheely, it offered a second family and a place where people understand.
Sheely's brother was murdered in October 1999. Her family still doesn't know what happened.
"When it first happened, you really go through a state of shock," Sheely said.
Co-workers and friends didn't understand what she was going through and didn't know what to say, she said.
A few months after her brother's death, someone told Sheely about Parents of Murdered Children, and she went to her first meeting.
"That was one of the hardest things I ever did," she said. "I forced myself to go."
And she is extremely glad she did. "It's made all the difference," she said.
"You know that everybody there understands because people who haven't experienced it don't understand," Sheely said. "It's kind of a second family."
At the conference, that family comes together — both longtime participants and newcomers — to support each other, catch up and attend workshops.
"Some people don't want to talk about it; they don't," Sheely said. "I think the majority of people do, and I think most people find it helpful."