Voices of survivors have incredible stories to share

Published: Aug. 19, 2011 at 2:06 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2011 at 3:09 AM EDT
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Dr. Jason Smith
Dr. Jason Smith
Teri Tharpe
Teri Tharpe
Antonio Tharpe (Source; Tharpe family)
Antonio Tharpe (Source; Tharpe family)
Bessie and Ed Morris (Source: Smith family)
Bessie and Ed Morris (Source: Smith family)
Scene of the Shawnee Park kickball game shootings on August 14
Scene of the Shawnee Park kickball game shootings on August 14

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - We've told you about Mayor Greg Fischer's "Voices of the Survivors Committee" created to help crime victims' families. But can these committee members really relate?

Violent crime continues to make headlines in Louisville: A 21-year-old mother of two shot and killed in a drive-by. Days later, a 16-year-old girl, caught in the crossfire, is shot in front of a Louisville home. Even a kickball game turns tragic as a triple shooting takes a 22-year-old's life and brings intense suffering to the victims' families.

"You see this hurt and anguish and surprise in their eyes," explained University of Louisville Hospital trauma surgeon Dr. Jason Smith.

Smith played a part in trying to save all those lives. He also has the unenviable task of telling parents when their child dies on the operating table. Mothers like Teri Tharpe.

"I guess as he tried to run, he was shot in the back," Tharpe said of her son Antonio.

Three years ago, Antonio Tharpe was just days away from his first semester at the University of Kentucky on an academic scholarship when he was rushed to emergency surgery. Because he became a target in a shooting at Beecher Terrace, Tharpe never got a chance to say goodbye to her son. The only person she spoke with at the hospital was Dr. Smith.

"I can remember him holding my hand and he said, 'I've done all I could,'" Tharpe recalled, "He just passed and I cried and he (Dr. Smith) didn't just get up and leave, he sat in there with us for awhile."

Tharpe knew there was something different about this doctor who had empathy for victims that ran deep.

"Why was it Aunt Bessie and Uncle Ed?" Smith asked as he recalled Father's Day 1985. "No one can answer that question."

It was a violent and highly publicized crime and killing spree that stretched from Florida to Kentucky. It's detailed in the book, "A Dark and Bloody Ground."

"They shot and killed my uncle in the kitchen and they shot and killed my great aunt in the bedroom," said Smith.

While it can't be compared to losing a child, the death of Bessie and Ed Morris was stunning to Smith's family.

Smith said his aunt and uncle owned a used car dealership. When they would go to state car auctions, they paid for cars in cash. Smith said the killers followed them home and forced their way inside.

"I remember dad telling us, we need to stay outside and I remember grandma crying," said Smith.

The gruesome murders made an impact on his career choice.

"I definitely related more to people that were involved in trauma or that were hurting," he said.

Because convicted killers Benny Hodge and Roger Epperson have had many appeals on death row, the doctor also understands the pain and anger the legal system can bring to families.

"They want answers and they're not going to have answers," Smith told us, "and they may never get answers and I think it's just heartbreaking."

Now, the mother and the surgeon are vowing to use their tragedies to help educate the community about senseless violence. Death and its delivery forever changing lives.

"I'm deprived at the way he would be in life and I'm deprived of whether he would be married," Tharpe said of Antonio, "or whether he would have kids."

"It's hard," Dr. Smith added, "it's really hard and it doesn't get any easier."

Friday, August 19 marks the third anniversary of Antonio Tharpe's death. Mothers like Teri Tharpe certainly will be a big help for families dealing with the grief and the legal system.

The committee is working on new pamphlets and other communication to help get that word out and meets again in September.

Copyright 2011 WAVE News. All rights reserved.