Camden group to start period of remembrance for victims of violence

At Hopeworks, a N. Camden nonprofit, young members paint crosses remembering each of the year's homicide victims.
At Hopeworks, a N. Camden nonprofit, young members paint crosses remembering each of the year's homicide victims. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 29, 2012

In February 2011, Shermere Lyons witnessed a fatal shooting as she walked out of a Camden convenience store.

She was pulled to safety by the store owner, who quickly closed the door behind them and called her father, she recalled. That night, Shermere lost her appetite, and over the next week, the images of the shooting replayed in her mind when she slept.

"It was weird to see somebody get shot in front of you," said Shermere, now 16, a LEAP Academy University Charter School junior who has aspirations of becoming a pediatrician.

With three months of the year still left, 48 homicides have been recorded in Camden - 10 short of the record 58 set in 1995, authorities said.

Some victims are remembered in public tributes and others are mourned privately, but the trauma of living with the violence lingers regardless.

On Monday, members of a group called Stop Trauma On People (STOP) will begin observing a three-month period of remembrance and healing that will include the planting of crosses - before sunrise - in Roosevelt Plaza near City Hall. Each cross will bear a victim's name, turning the site into a memorial.

In the afternoon, the group will place duplicate crosses in a second memorial field at Seventh and Linden Streets, near an entrance to the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Members will ring church bells during the day and at a Monday night candlelight vigil, where victims' names will be read, at Roosevelt Plaza.

STOP plans to repeat the practice after every new homicide and hold events through December. The group seeks to draw attention to homicides but says it also decries the daily trauma inflicted on residents living with assaults, violence and poverty.

"The way that we treat violence in Camden could be analogous to telling an abused person somehow they're responsible for their abuse or that the abuse they experienced is normal, so keep functioning," said the Rev. Jeff Putthoff, founder and executive director of Hopeworks, a North Camden nonprofit focused on youth development. "That's the ultimate trauma here.

"We tell people to keep functioning," he said. "The way we tell them that is, we're silent about it."

The regular trauma in the lives of young people has been shown to affect their development, Putthoff said.

"Those youth become adults with these traumatic experiences embedded in their life," he said. "It affects how they work, how they live, and how they raise their children."

Events during the time of remembrance include a peace walk, movies on coping with trauma, and a dinner for family members of homicide victims.

They will conclude before an annual vigil held by Sister Helen Cole to honor homicide victims.

Cole, a social worker with Guadalupe Family Services in North Camden, started the vigil in 1995.

"There was a feeling that there was an overwhelming sense of complacency by everyone to the severity of the violence," said Angel Osorio, a STOP member who helped plan the group's three-month remembrance.

The homicides stem from unaddressed issues, such as failing schools, poverty, and unemployment, Osorio said.

"We're in this spot because of many failed opportunities," she said.

On Tuesday in North Camden, Putthoff, Shermere, and several Hopeworks youths painted crosses in red, green, and other bright colors.

A cross honoring Doris Malavet's daughter, Alma Reyes Brito, was pink and white, with the nickname "Mita" in the middle. The 4-foot-8 mother of three and grandmother of six was killed June 2. Her longtime boyfriend, William White, was charged with fatally striking her with a gun.

On Tuesday, Malavet was invited by Putthoff to watch the painting of the crosses.

"They said it gets easier day by day. It gets harder," she said, tearing up. "I go to bed crying, I wake up crying."


Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or at dsimon@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

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