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The victims' angels

Volunteers Kathy Hall and ann Holtzman make up the city's victim assistance unit

Volunteers Kathy Hall and ann Holtzman make up the city's victim assistance unit

June 02, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

As police officers tape off violent crime scenes to protect evidence, Kathy Hall and Ann Holtzman protect the most fragile people at the scene - the victim's family.

The two women - Hall, the wife of a retired Hagerstown Police Department lieutenant, and Holtzman, the mother of a city police sergeant - volunteer as the sole members of the victim assistance unit with the police department.

Any time day or night that police or firefighters are called out for a violent crime or death, Hall, 54, or Holtzman, 60, are paged.

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Hall said the women bring maternal instincts to the often heart-wrenching calls.

The women have hugged grieving widows and held dead children. They have sat with bloodied bodies, helped arrange funerals and walked sobbing mothers through painful goodbyes. And when they're finished consoling the victims of the crime, they console the police who responded to it.

Then they take care of themselves.

"You have to compartmentalize," Hall said. "You have to put it aside when you're not doing it and become fully involved when you are in it."

Gov. Robert Ehrlich recognized the women's work in late April by presenting them with 2004 Governor's Victim Assistance Awards.

In a letter of recommendation to the governor, Hagerstown Police Detective Tammy Jurado described an investigation in which Holtzman was called to help. A couple had unexpectedly lost their toddler son and Holtzman was asked to comfort the family as detectives worked to determine how the child died.

In the letter, Jurado said Holtzman "immediately went to the parents and wrapped them in her arms. She spent hours with the family (parents and paternal grandparents), kneeling on the floor while the mother cried hysterically, offering them comfort and support and helping explain to the family why the police were involved and why their child was taken from their arms and sent to the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office."

Detective Shane Blankenship described the time Hall was called to the scene of a teenager's suicide.

In a letter of recommendation, Blankenship said that when he arrived at the scene he had to work hard to keep family members from entering the bedroom where the girl had been found. He said the family needed to talk about the tragedy and he listened to them, but felt he needed to get on with the investigation.

When Hall arrived, he said in the letter, she immediately calmed the family and kept them away from the scene.

"It should be noted that not only did Kathy stay with the family throughout the evening while I was there, but she also assisted them for the next few days by answering questions they had and acting as a liaison between the family and HPD," Hall wrote.

Hall and Holtzman, who founded the unit together 12 years ago, said their own "life seasoning" has helped them deal with others' tragedies.

For survivors, "It will never be the same, and we don't ever say we understand," Hall said. "We have to be a blank sheet of paper for that person."

Criminal Investigations Unit supervisor Lt. Richard Johnson, who also supervises Hall and Holtzman, sent the letters of recommendation to the governor.

Watching as the two women walked through the police department, Johnson said, "Truly, if there are angels that are walking on earth, there are two of them right here."

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