Maura Evans' 16-year-old son, Matthew L. Elliott, was one of three homicide victims on Buffalo's East Side during the first weekend of July 2008, but Matthew was more than a statistic.
During a ceremony Tuesday night in memory of the murder victims, Evans recalled the horror of rushing to Erie County Medical Center after her son was shot and seeing that he had been fitted with a medical wristband that read "John Doe."
"I remember telling the medical attendant that he's not a ‘John Doe.' His name is Matthew Lawrence Elliott. He was born Sept. 29, 1991. He is not a ‘John Doe.' That's my baby," she told a crowd of about 200 gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, as she fought back tears.
Maura Evans was one of four grieving mothers who shared their heartbreak over losing children to violence as part of the local observance of National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, an annual designation approved by Congress in 2007.
"It's a national day, not just something that we put together," said Teresa Evans, president of Parents Encouraging Accountability and Closure for Everyone, or PEACE, a sponsor of the local event.
"It gives the nation an opportunity to stop and pause and remember our loved ones, and not only our loved ones, but to remember the surviving family members," added Evans, no relation to Maura Evans.
Photographs of local homicide victims lined the park's slate wall surrounding the giant bust of King off Fillmore Avenue. Also lining the wall were small floral bouquets and mementos of the victims, including a pair of Nike flip-flops that were owned by Matthew Elliott. Four years after his murder, the case remains unsolved, his mother said Tuesday.
"I have forgiven the person that has taking my son's life. Some of you may not be at that point, but that's what I had to do because of the God that I serve," Maura Evans said. "… And if you know who took Matthew's life, let him know or her know that I love them, I have forgiven them, and tell them that Jesus loves them, too."
Cindy Korczykowski said that it was a year before her son's murderer was brought to justice.
"On April 8, 2010, my son was murdered and my granddaughter was in the car when he was murdered. A year went by, and the murderer fled New York State. I was blessed with the help through homicide detectives. They finally caught my son's murderer," Korczykowski said.
While she is grateful that the person who fatally shot her son, Joshua, was convicted and sentenced to prison, there is still much healing that remains for her family.
"My granddaughter, she has bullet fragments still inside of her. Till this day, she still does. They cannot remove the bullet fragments. She still has got to live with this pain and seeing her father die right before her. And she's in therapy," Korczykowski said.
The only thing good that came out of this was seeing the killer go to prison, she said.
"I was lucky," she said. "Other parents aren't as lucky as I am. Their children get shot, and nobody's there to speak out or help."
A candlelight vigil was held for the victims as the Rev. Kenneth Pryor, chaplain for PEACE, read off their names. At the close of the two-hour ceremony, a batch of white balloons, each bearing the name of a homicide victim, was released into the air.