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Group aids loved ones of homicide victims

Grief over the loss of a loved one is an emotion familiar to many, but if that loved one was murdered, the grieving process may be different.

"Grief, I understand, is grief, but at the same time, sometimes it's shameful. People don't want to talk about it in public," said Tracy Cooley, program coordinator for a new support group for people who have lost loved ones to homicides.

A free service by the Stop the Violence Coalition, the group meets on the third Thursday of each month at Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, 1370 William St. It is run by volunteers and supported by fundraising.

Thursday was the first meeting. Only one person showed up, but Cooley was optimistic. For one, she said, it can be difficult for people to open up because of the senseless circumstances surrounding the homicide. Secondly, the concept is new. She did online research into similar programs but found them only in Canada and Australia.

"We're doing it because of the response of the community. So we want to give it a try," said Cooley, whose brother-in-law died last November after he was slashed in the neck with a piece of glass during a fight.

"It's a forum just for people with this common thread to come together to help support each other," Cooley said.

What the support group offers is different from grief counseling because it allows survivors of homicide victims to share issues that might be uncomfortable to others who have not had similar experiences. Here, they can be open about their loved ones and their emotions without the worry of being stigmatized or feeling embarrassed, which could make the healing process even more difficult, Cooley said.

One person who hopes to benefit from the program is Akin Hassobolu Wilson, whose good friend was shot to death about four years ago. Wilson had just left his friend's house and went around the corner to his own home on Grider Street. Twenty minutes later, Wilson said, he heard gunshots while he was sitting outside.

When he went back to the crime scene, his friend was covered with a blanket.

"I didn't want to believe that," he said. "It affected me. You try to blank that stuff out of your memory, but unfortunately, you can't. This support group is a healing process."

As the program develops, organizers hope to establish ties with the Buffalo police Homicide Bureau and the "Peaceprints" nonviolence movement that started after the Good Friday murder of Sister Karen Klimczak, a Catholic nun, in 2006 by an ex-convict she was trying to help. The hope is that the two organizations would direct people to the support group, similar to the way emergency responders help fire victims get Red Cross assistance.

The coalition also hopes to have grief counselor at future support group meetings.

"We're in the beginning stages," Cooley said, "but we wanted to get started and branch out from there."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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