PROVIDENCE — The families gathered in Memorial Park at the edge of the Providence River, holding white flowers to honor the memories of their loved ones lost to violence.
As some tossed the flowers onto the water after Wednesday’s ceremony for the 40th annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, they were overcome.
Two women led a toddler to the stone-lined edge of the river and gave her a flower to throw in. A man wearing a shirt memorializing his son leaned on a cane. The mother of a man killed a decade ago hugged the relative of a man slain last year.
Yvelinne Matos sobbed in the arms of a victims advocate from the Nonviolence Institute. She had just passed the first anniversary of her son’s death.
Her son Ostwald “Dany” Sanchez, 22, and his girlfriend, 21-year-old Hailey K. Bennett were fatally shot on April 10, 2020, and left in a car abandoned on the railroad tracks. A Central Falls man is charged with killing them.
Sanchez had an “infinite trust” in people, the obituary from his family said, and Bennett was studying to be a nurse. Both were beloved by their families and friends.
“She feels like he’s still out there somewhere,” said advocate Geraldine Urena, translating for Matos. “She says it’s hard to believe that he’s gone.”
Her grief is still fresh. Diana Garlington and Myra Latimer could tell her that the pain won’t ease with time.
The two mothers were guest speakers at the ceremony hosted by Attorney General Peter F. Neronha to honor victims, their families, and the advocates who help them.
Garlington’s and Latimer’s children were murdered in 2011, a little more than a month apart. Latimer’s 23-year-old son Steven was killed in downtown Providence that October, and Garlington’s daughter, Esscence, was 21 when she was killed in South Providence that November.
“No matter the amount of time that goes by, the pain is always there,” Latimer said.
As they’ve mourned, the mothers have been advocates for other families who’d suffered the same losses. Latimer launched a foundation and 5K race in her son’s name, establishing scholarships for children who’ve lost parents or loved ones to violence.
Garlington started Safer Communities for Justice, to draw attention to 135 unsolved homicides in Rhode Island — one of which is her daughter’s.
The responsibility “is not just our police departments, not just authorities — it’s our communities,” Garlington said. “We can’t stand by and be quiet, knowing that we are losing our children in large numbers, especially our young men. These types of crimes being committed are unacceptable, and we must stand up as a community and speak out on these senseless acts of violence.”
The victims’ rights movement over the last 40 years has led to changes in how law enforcement responds and treats victims, said Rhode Island State Police Colonel James Manni. He recently created a special victims unit, trained in conducting “trauma-informed” interviews of victims of sexual assault, child molestation, and trafficking.
The Providence Police Department also has a similar approach and works closely with victims’ advocates. “We have to provide this assistance and resources to give families and individuals some sense of balance in their lives, and a glimmer of hope for the future,” said Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr.
The crime victims compensation fund now offers up to $25,000 to help families or victims of crime with basic needs including housing, medical expenses, counseling, funeral expenses, and relocation when their safety is threatened. Last year, the program assisted more than 1,000 Rhode Islanders.
State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, whose office runs the fund, reflected on a boy he’d known when he was a teacher in Louisiana, who was killed at age 19. He thought about all the teachers, relatives, friends and others who’d invested in the boy’s care, only to see his life cut short.
Memorial Park is just across the street from the Licht Judicial Complex, where the man indicted in February for the murder of Latimer’s son will one day go to trial.
Latimer said she had mixed emotions.
“I’m happy there’s an indictment, but I think about all the other mothers, fathers, families, children, whose cases are still unsolved,” she said. “There’s really never any closure, because at the end of the day, my son is gone. ... I’ll always be missing my son. My granddaughter will not have her father.”