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Holidays Are Tough. Support Group Helps Families Of Murder Victims Grieve

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Mothers of Murdered Offspring is a support group based in Charlotte, N.C. And it got its start back in 1993. That year, more than a hundred people were killed in Charlotte. And now 25 years later, the group is still helping families grieve. WUNC's Adhiti Bandlamudi joined them at their annual Thanksgiving memorial brunch.

ADHITI BANDLAMUDI, BYLINE: It's not surprising that the holidays are hard for the membership of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, or MOM-O. Each year, they gather before Thanksgiving to share a meal and remember their dead. Parents and siblings line up to say their loved one's name into a microphone.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Rahim Cammon (ph), 2016 and Christopher Watson Jr., 2016.

RON KIMBLE: Our daughter Jamie Kristine Kimble entered heaven on September 3, 2012.

BANDLAMUDI: After speaking, each person lights a candle and returns to their seat. Many are crying. The reading of the names continues for 18 minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: My uncle, Richard Dees (ph), was murdered October 2007.

MARDESHA BRIGHT: My brother, Jamie Bright, was murdered this summer, July 15, 2018.

BANDLAMUDI: That was Mardesha Bright, Jamie's older sister. Bright was shot and died in his living room. He was 18. Lakeker Bright is Jamie's mother.

LAKEKER BRIGHT: It's like I'm in a make-believe world now. Life is not real to me no more. I'm numb to life. I don't care if I live or die no more.

BANDLAMUDI: Jamie was her oldest son.

L. BRIGHT: He was real shy. He didn't like to take pictures. I used to just say, Jamie, you're my golden child.

BANDLAMUDI: Following her son's death, she has turned to MOM-O to help her try to make sense of what happened. MOM-O works with the county's police departments to help families organize funeral services, and they help relatives navigate the court system.

Sally Miller-Coleman was an early member of MOM-O. She lost her son, Narius, in January 25 years ago. He was 13 years old. Black children like Narius are disproportionately the victims of firearm homicides. Miller-Coleman explains how MOM-O offers hope.

SALLY MILLER-COLEMAN: Mothers of Murdered Offspring is a vessel that I can use to help me to grow. I can learn to move forward. I can learn, yes, you're there when I need you; you're there to go to court with me.

BANDLAMUDI: Ernestine Briggs-King, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University, says organizations like MOM-O help relatives better bear their pain.

ERNESTINE BRIGGS-KING: And you get to talking, and you start sharing stories and remembering good times. And that's a very different feeling than sitting in isolation.

BANDLAMUDI: Miller-Coleman describes the pain that lingers 25 years after losing her son.

MILLER-COLEMAN: It's no forgetting it. But I don't want to walk around here with a sad heart the rest of my life. And I don't think that's what God intended for me to do. I can't say what my son intended, but I don't think he would want me to be sad 25, 30, 40 years.

BANDLAMUDI: Miller-Coleman says she wants to use her energy not only to help relatives grieve. She wants to work with others to reduce the violence...

MILLER-COLEMAN: Don't wait till the murder happens. Try to prevent some of this.

BANDLAMUDI: ...Because she doesn't want to keep visiting families whose loved ones have been killed.

For NPR News, I'm Adhiti Bandlamudi in Charlotte.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHITA'S "MIZORE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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