Their light still shines - Victims of violent crimes remembered at Hagerstown ceremony

April 14, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - Her brother was only 19 years old when he was stabbed to death in 1983.

Her son was 4 months old when he was shaken to death in January 2007.

Their son was 25 years old when he was shot to death in the line of duty in December 2007.

"You do wonder ... who would he have been?" said Eva Seiler, of Hagerstown, referring to her brother, Jeff Swope. "Would he be married? Would he have children?"

Swope was stabbed to death in Washington County in 1983.

Seiler came together with about 100 people Sunday to remember the victims of violent crime in Western Maryland. There were three other memorials throughout Maryland on Sunday for victims in those regions.

It was the 19th annual statewide memorial service for crime victims and their families. The local service was held at the Hagerstown Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Robinwood Drive.


A representative from Gov. Martin O'Malley's office for Crime Control and Prevention attended. Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. spoke during the service.

"I still take it a second at a time," said Dee Myers, the maternal grandmother of Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon.

Justice was just 4 months old when he was shaken to death in 2007.

Myers said going to the memorial service, and seeing other families who have experienced the same pain, does help.

Slain Smithsburg Police Officer Christopher Nicholson's mother, Karen Highbarger, and stepfather, Paul Highbarger, attended Sunday's memorial.

"(We're feeling) the same thing we feel every day," Paul said. "We wish we had Chris back."

Karen wrote a message to her son on a patch that was attached to a banner and displayed during the service. The message said, "I love you and miss you," and was signed by the Highbargers and Nicholson's grandmother, Arlene Pfeiffer.

"It's hard to believe that I'm at something like this for my son," Nicholson's mother said.

Three of Jeffery A. Wroten's five children carried the banner into the service. Another carried a memorial wreath. Wroten was working as an officer for Roxbury Correctional Institution in 2006 when he was killed by an inmate he was guarding.

"Not one of us asked to be here today," said Tracey Wroten, Jeffery Wroten's ex-wife. "When (Jeffery) died, I didn't know how my children were going to survive."

She said she was given the advice to take life 30 seconds at a time. Now, more than two years after his death, Wroten said she is able to take life a few days at a time.

"I take things day by day ... get through, get strong," said Ashley Brown, Justice's mother.

Julie Gehr, of Big Pool, said the brutal murder of her grandparents in 1994 affects her still today. Her grandparents, Daniel and Wilda Davis, were stabbed to death in their Hagerstown home.

Gehr said she was in her late 20s at the time of their death, and said the mourning process continues. The pain never really goes away.

If her parents do not pick up their phone, or if her husband or daughter are late coming home, Gehr said she thinks something terrible has happened again.

"I start panicking," she said.

When Gehr first began attending the memorial services about 14 years ago, she said the list of names was much shorter. In total, about 360 names of violent crime victims were read aloud Sunday.

"It's sad how much it's grown," Gehr said. "But you know you're not alone. When you have someone murdered ... the bitterness, the anger. You want justice. It doesn't come. It takes forever. You know you have someone to talk to if you need to."

More photos

Click here to see more photos of Sunday's event.

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