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Remembering those lost; Eighth annual memorial to victims of violence honors 'life that was lived and life lost'

Veronica Harris spends a lot of time alone these days.

In a span of four years, her family has disappeared, one by one, before her eyes.

First, she lost her son, Paul E. Jenkins, to homicide. Jenkins, 24, was knifed to death May 27, 2007, outside a Delaware Avenue bar trying to break up a fight.

Harris' mother died four months later, broken-hearted over her grandson.

Then, in 2009, her daughter, Ellett Walker, died in her early 30s. A medical examiner's report didn't find homicide to be the cause, but Harris thinks she was a victim of domestic violence. Last August, her 84-year-old father passed away.

"God's got another plan for me," said Harris, who along with about a dozen others pinned red bows on a Tree of Life on Wednesday evening in the Delavan-Grider Community Center, during the eighth annual celebration to remember victims of homicide.

"I had to thank Him for letting me have [Paul] for 24 years and my daughter for 34 years," Harris said. "They're with Him now."

Wednesday, if only for a brief time, Harris had company.

One of those people, Stephanie Alsqqaf, knows what Harris is going through, times five.

Alsqqaf pinned 10 bows to the Tree of Life remembering family members and friends she has lost to homicide over the years.

"It's real hard to express, but you know they're at home," Alsqqaf said. "The problem is amongst the living in trying to let go but in never forgetting them."

Alsqqaf said the annual celebration is important to those who attend.

"It lets you know you're not alone and your loved ones are never forgotten," she said.

That was the idea Karla Thomas, the city's former human resources commissioner, had when she worked to organize the first Tree of Life event eight years ago. Thomas moderated the celebration Wednesday.

"It gives enduring respect to life that was lived and life that was lost," Thomas said. "Some things, you'll never get over, but you can get through them."

One-by-one, Kandyce Allamby called the roll of the city's 35 homicide victims in 2011 in chronological order, inviting families to place bows on the tree. Then she announced the names of other homicide victims in recent years for whom family members were present.

One of those men, Maurice Howie, pinned three bows on the tree.

They represented one each for his cousin, David J. Hyshaw, a 17-year-old shot and killed Oct. 9, 2009, outside of a Fillmore Avenue house, and friends, Robert House and John "J.D." Underwood Jr., who were killed in 1989 and 2004, respectively.

"It feels better," Howie said. "It feels right to be here with common people [who have also experienced homicide].

"You can go into 2012 with a clear heart knowing someone else cares."