Rocks in garden help families remember victims

Posted: June 13, 2014

Paw prints, butterflies, roses, and soccer balls were painted on the rocks that lay in the dark earth Wednesday outside the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office, reminders for the friends and family who had gathered to honor their loved ones lost to violent crimes.

Mary Pasquale found out that her 12-year-old daughter, Autumn, had been killed when she turned on the news and a scrolling banner at the bottom of the screen said her body had been found in a recycling container.

Jean Weaver and Debbie Schanz's daughter, Amy-Lynn Schanz, 15, was strangled in their home in 1991 by her ex-boyfriend, shortly after she had broken up with him.

These women share the grief of losing their daughters. They are members of a group nobody wants to join.

"No one can steal your memories," State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) told the attendees. "Remembering your loved ones . . . is important. We should never stop."

The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office strives to provide counseling and guidance in the moments and years following the violent death of a loved one - actively, by calling when those who perpetrated the crimes come up for parole, and passively, by providing the space for the rock garden to help with healing.

"I can come here and be with myself and my daughter," Schanz said of the garden.

Wednesday's victim-remembrance ceremony began with speeches - from Sweeney and Prosecutor Sean Dalton - as well as musical performances.

"I think it's important that [the Prosecutor's Office employees and law enforcement] recognize that their loved ones have been murdered. We remember them," said Barbara Carter, who helps victims' families for the office.

Carter has worked with Schanz and her wife, Weaver - as well as many other families of victims - over the last couple of decades. She let them know when their daughter's killer came up for parole and provided support during the taxing aftermath.

"She turns the victims that come into her office into survivors," Schanz said.

Carter and the Prosecutor's Office also notified Weaver and Schanz when their daughter's killer died in prison just before the end of his term. The news made Schanz want to pop champagne bottles, she said.

"People say you're supposed to forget," Schanz said. "You never forget."

After the ceremony, held indoors because of weather concerns, Mary Pasquale moved outside with the crowd of about 100 to view the painted rocks. Autumn Pasquale's soccer jersey number, 14, is painted on one of the nearly 100 rocks.

Mary Pasquale said she felt anguish, remembering the moment she saw the news that her daughter - who she said would "stick up for people" and loved soccer, and was intelligent, beautiful, and competitive - had been killed.

"I had a gut-wrenching cry. . . . It came from the pit of my stomach," Pasquale said.

For the families, the most important thing is to remember. For the Prosecutor's Office, one of the best ways to help is by being a compassionate ear and shoulder.

"They give you the dignity of remembrance," Schanz said. "We don't get shoved aside, and they don't tire of hearing about Amy."


cmindock@phillynews.com

856-779-3237 @clarkmindock

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