There were more than a few tears shed Sunday afternoon as the survivors of victims who died mostly as a result of homicides in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County came together for a memorial service.
The eighth annual service kicked off National Crime Victims Rights Week and was co-sponsored by Healing Place Ministries, the Victim Witness Division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Area Agency on Aging for Southeast Arkansas. It was held at Bethany Missionary Baptist Church.
“Don’t let what happened to you hold you captive,” said the Rev. Renice Davis, pastor of the church. “As you move forward with your life, move forward with courage. Do not close off your life because God is not done with you yet.”
Recalling the story in the Bible when Cain slayed his brother, Davis described that as “a horrendous experience.
“This memorial service didn’t just start here,” he said. “Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, I am. When our brother strays away, it is up to us to pray that he get back on the right path.”
Davis described the group gathered for the service as “an incredible gathering.”
“Sometimes things happen that don’t make any sense, but nothing surprises God,” Davis said. “What may happen around the corner can knock you off your foundation. Senseless acts are a part of life and there are many uncertainties, but God stays the same.”
Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth proclaimed the week of April 21 to April 27 National Crime Victims Rights Week in the city and said she “didn’t know a word to describe the depth of the pain, the grief and the suffering you are going through, but with the help of the Lord, you will survive.”
The Rev. David Morgan, director of Healing Place Ministries, said this was the eighth year that the memorial service has been conducted. He told the packed church that ”we’re praying for you, we love you, and we hope you find a new normal because the loss never fully goes away.”
The annual victim service award was presented to Karen Palmer, director of the CASA Women’s Shelter, by Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter, whose Victim Witness Division co-sponsored the memorial service.
“The criminal justice system is one of the most frustrating things in the world but we have a Victim-Witness Division that’s not there to cause more pain but to help people navigate through the system,” Hunter said. “We hope they can help to bring healing to the community.”
Regarding the selection of Palmer, Hunter said Pine Bluff is “blessed to have a special place and special people like Karen Palmer.”
Interim Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks and Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson slowly read the names of the 19 victims for 2012 and later those names joined victims from Lincoln and Pulaski counties on the memorial wall that was dedicated by the Rev. Edna Morgan, president of Healing Place Ministries.
After the service, each surviving family received a prayer shawl donated by United Methodist Women from churches in Arkansas and Texas, who knitted or crocheted the shawls while praying over them.