Karen Gildea Pavelka tried to pacify her year-old daughter, Karissa, during the program at Langsdale Auditorium at the University of Baltimore. The infant was oblivious to the fact that she had something in common with the nearly 200 people who sat in the building.
She, like the others, was a victim -- and a survivor.
HTC Karissa never had a chance to know the touch of her uncle, Gary H. Gildea, because he was killed Oct. 10, 1988, by a drunken driver -- five days before he was to be married. Mrs. Pavelka, 26, of White Marsh came to Baltimore yesterday to honor the memory of her brother and to be with other crime victims for the second statewide Victims' Memorial Service.
The service kicked off National Victim Rights Week, with a theme of "Victim Justice -- A New Balance."
Mrs. Pavelka has been actively involved in Mothers Against Drunk Drivers since her brother's death. She was drawn to yesterday's service, which featured a solemn program of poems, songs and speakers, to be with others who understand the grief of losing a loved one to a senseless act.
"It helps to be with other people that share that grief, even if was under different circumstances than a drunk driver," Mrs. Pavelka said. "We want people to know these people were not just statistics and that they are not forgotten."
While the occasion was solemn, its theme was not one of sorrow but one of hope and determination for the advancement of victims rights and the fight against crime. Mrs. Pavelka said the event "makes me optimistic that change can come about."
The program featured such speakers as Roberta Roper, whose daughter, Stephanie Ann, was murdered in 1982. Mrs. Roper was the driving force behind the Stephanie Roper Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides support for crime victims and lobbies for laws improving victims rights.
She told the crowd attending the service that they were "survivors."
"You are survivors who have risen from grief and despair not to become victims but to be survivors," Mrs. Roper said.
She exhorted those in attendance to work toward getting more rights for victims throughout the criminal justice system. "We've been changed by our experience of grief and loss, and only we can make the choice whether or not that imprint will be destructive or constructive. Only you have the passion and persistance to make a difference."
One of the speakers yesterday was Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods, who described the police as an ally to those who have been crime victims. He said police officers are "men and women who share in your frustration and who seek a new balance for victims."
Because of last month's videotaped beating of a suspect by Los Angeles policemen, law officers nationwide have been under a siege of criticism against brutality.
Next month, Commissioner Woods said, police, families and friends of officers killed in the line of duty will meet in Washington as part of an annual memorial service. "We will hold each other and mourn our common loss -- the loss of a fellow officer. . . . And we, like you, will seek a balance."
Other speakers included Lonise Bias, mother of Len Bias, the University of Maryland basketball star who died from a drug overdose in 1986, and a younger son, Jay, who was killed last year by a gunman in Prince George's County; Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.; and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.