A day to remember forgotten victims

Hundreds mourn their slain loved ones at memorial services

In Maryland

April 26, 1999|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

It was nearly three years ago that Margaret McCarter, 74, a retired postal worker, and her daughter, Nadine Evans, 47, a psychiatric nurse, were murdered in their home on Greenspring Avenue in Baltimore.

They were not famous. In a city with a murder a day, the crime was only noteworthy enough to merit a couple of brief news articles. The killer has never been caught.

So yesterday, McCarter's other two daughters, Bernardine Smiley and Helen Evans, seeking an afternoon of solidarity in the solitary business of grief, came to a high school auditorium in Anne Arundel County to sit with about 300 other survivors of Maryland murder victims.

"After the funeral, everybody else forgets. The family lives with it forever," Evans said after the 10th annual statewide memorial service for crime victims and their families. "We come to this service every year. It kind of helps. There's always something that touches me."

At North County High School in Ferndale, and at parallel services in Carroll and Dorchester counties, friends and relatives remembered good people snatched violently from ordinary lives. In the background, the news of mass murder from another high school, in Littleton, Colo., hovered unmistakably.

But the services were a reminder of the more than 500 Marylanders whose murders each year pass without saturation coverage on CNN or presidential messages of condolence. If Littleton shows that there is savagery that still can shock and bewilder the nation, yesterday's services stood for the violence Americans have grown so used to that it no longer qualifies as major news.

Evans and Smiley, both of Baltimore, say they have not heard from the police for nearly two years about the unsolved murder of their mother and sister. They can't imaginewho would have wanted to harm the two devoted churchgoers who wore matching pink dresses on the Sunday before they died.

"Our brother was so devastated, he finally moved out of Baltimore," Smiley said. "Now he lives in Germany, but he still calls and says, `Anything new on the case?' You can never get away from it."

Alongside the sisters at the service were frail, elderly couples remembering slain grandchildren, and toddlers who will grow up with no memory of a murdered father. The crowd was about half white and half African-American, a mix of urban and rural, business suits and sweat shirts.

For 40 minutes, survivors stood on the stage under a spotlight in the dimly lighted auditorium, reading the names of murder victims from recent years. There were 10 Browns, 15 Johnsons, 20 Smiths, 12 Williamses. A harpist played quietly, "Ode to Joy" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Hung from the ceiling was a lace banner pinned with felt butterflies bearing the names of the slain and the slogan, "We Remember Them."

Among the names read by Melanie Thompson was that of her son, Ray Childress, who would have celebrated his 24th birthday yesterday had he not been gunned down five years ago by a 17-year-old romantic rival. When she realized this year's service coincided with her son's birthday, she decided she had to be there.

Thompson, 42, of Glen Burnie said the news from Colorado has been particularly difficult for her. "It brings back every single detail of what happened, from the moment they knocked on my door at 3 in the morning," she said.

But Thompson, like many of the bereaved, has sought solace in counseling others. She speaks regularly to groups of teen-agers, particularly first-time juvenile offenders. Watching the scenes from Littleton on television, "I sat there with tears streaming down my face, thinking, `If only I could have reached those two boys,' " she said.

Thompson has already lived through the prosecution of her son's killer, who is serving a life term. For Don and Muriel Keefer of Pasadena, that roller-coaster is still ahead.

Their daughter, Terry Keefer, 37, was murdered in 1995, her body found in the underbrush in Howard County after a 41-day search. The case went unsolved for three years. Then, in December, police finally made an arrest in the case. They charged Terry's husband, David Dicus, with her murder.

Now the Keefers care for their grandson, Lucas, 14, who has, in a sense, lost both his parents. They came to the service for solace.

"It's akin to looking at an old photograph or visiting the cemetery," said Don Keefer, 67. "As long as we have memories of Terry, she isn't really gone."

He said the isolation of survivors of murder victims often can be penetrated only by other survivors.

"People who mean well say to you, `You have to get over it, get a life,' " he said. "That doesn't help."

But at the support group they attend, he said, "You can rant and rave and no one thinks anything of it. And you may be able to help someone else with their grief and rage."

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