Group aims to help survivors of homicide victims

Kim Vanderhaar
Kim Vanderhaar
Dr. Jason Smith
Dr. Jason Smith
Camden McCroskey (source: family photo)
Camden McCroskey (source: family photo)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In 2010 in Louisville Metro, 54 people died in criminal homicides. In the last few weeks, we've followed some very high-profile killings, those of Trey Zwicker and Davion Powell. We know their names, but how much thought do we give to the people left behind?  There's a new push in the Metro to make us all a little more compassionate.

In many ways, it's like Camden McCroskey never left but his mother knows better.

"It's been two years and two months today and I'm better but I still have such a void," said Kim Vanderhaar.

Camden was killed outside of a local grocery store on the Outer Loop in April 2009. Vanderhaar still struggles with it daily.

"It will never go away for us, but it does kind of hurt to know that other people do tend to forget," she said.

"These are people that were awake, walking, talking, had breakfast that morning and for whatever kind of tragic action or injury are now not," said University of Louisville Hospital surgeon Dr. Jason Smith.

Smith sees the victims of trauma almost every day. He also sees their families.

"There's nothing you can ever say to make it better, but you just hopefully the extra time helps," he said.

Dr. Smith knows, maybe better than anyone else, what homicide can do to a family.

"My grandma's sister, we called her Aunt Bessie, her and her husband were actually killed in a robbery in Eastern Kentucky," he said.

Benny Hodge and Roger Epperson still sit on Kentucky's death row for those killings.

Smith still remembers the impact on his family.

"You're a kid," he said. "We were waiting on the front porch and you hear everyone crying and upset and you don't know what's going on."

That's why he and Vanderhaar are both a part of a new committee working with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. They hope to help us all better understand how to help the families homicide leaves behind.

"Just step back for just a minute and think, 'What's going on in this guy's mind or this girl's mind? Why are we here or how could I help them? What would I want at this time?' Smith said.

"It just helps to know that you're not alone because when it happens to you, you feel like you're the only person in the world that's feeling that pain," said Vanderhaar.

The Voices of the Survivors committee met for the first time Saturday at Metro Hall.

"There's just a lot of things that you have to do when a person is brutally murdered that you don't normally have to do if someone just dies of sickness," said Angela Robinson.  "You're taking in so much information. You're processing grief. You're in shock"

She's the great aunt of 4-year-old Tony Hack.  Prosecutors say he was badly beaten by his mother's boyfriend, Johnny Juliot, who's facing the death penalty in the case but has pled not guilty.

Tony Hack died shortly after the beating.

"We do know what happened and that he is being prosecuted for it but we do miss Tony. He was four years old and was awesome. He loved his bicycle and he played and he loved the color red and we have a lot of pictures up and he smiled all the time. He was the perfect four year old," Robinson said.

Explaining the circumstances can be especially difficult.

"He had three sisters. They really miss him. The youngest was very close to him so she does not understand where her brother went," Robinson said.

It's something The Voices of the Survivors Committee hopes to change.

"I want to salute them all for their bravery that you're showing," Mayor Fischer said during Saturday's meeting.

The new 14-person committee will provide families with resources, funeral planning tips, counseling -- and just someone to talk to.

"I think that energy will rub off on a lot of young people but it's a long fight, it's a worthy fight," said community activist Christopher 2X.

The group is made up of:

  • Chairperson Dr. Barbara Weekly-Jones of the Jefferson County Corner
  • Dr. Jason Smith of U of L Hospital
  • Christopher 2X, a community activist
  • William Summers, VP of Central Bank of Jefferson County
  • Tim Gerrad, Mainline Broadcasting Rep
  • Mark Gunn, Mainling Broadcasting Rep
  • Ellen Green, Hospice
  • Kim Hammond Vanderhaar, lost loved one to a violent crime
  • Karen Haywood, lost loved one to a violent crime
  • Terri Tharpe, lost loved one to a violent crime
  • Sheri Harris, lost loved one to a violent crime
  • Connie Parker, lost loved one to a violent crime
  • Marie Dickerson, lost loved one to a violent crime
  • Tara Hack, lost loved one to a violent crime
  • Terry Zwicker, lost loved one to a violent crime

The group will report back to the mayor in early October with suggestions on how to help the survivors of homicide victims.

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