LELAND, N.C. (WECT) - It was standing room only at the Leland Cultural Arts Center as hundreds of people gathered to honor and remember more than 250 people lost to violent crime in southeastern North Carolina.
The 24th annual Candle Light Memorial Service in Brunswick County remembered fallen law enforcement, firefighters, military members and victims of violent crime.
"It is a somber moment and we understand the heaviness. There’s no such thing as the word “closure” when someone’s lost a child or a loved one to a crime of violence, but there is such thing as getting justice,” said District Attorney Ben David.
The event started in 1995, after Birdie Frink’s daughter, Amy, was killed.
District attorneys Ben and Jon David have since taken over the planning of the event and will recognize cases dating from the 1990s up until recent weeks.
Jon David opened the service saying, “let the love that you feel for the person you’re here to honor and celebrate and remember be counter-balanced by the tragedy which befell that person.”
The event aims to promote community healing.
2019 speakers include Scott and Lisa Smith, who lost their son Caleb in 2016 in a car accident when he was 13 years old, but they choose to not remember him as a victim.
His father, Scott Smith, said “I choose to use these words: blessed and thankful. We were blessed to have him for the thirteen years that we did and everyone that ever knew him was thankful for him.”
During the service, each victim’s family received a white rose in their honor including the family of Joseph Williams, whose alleged killer was charged earlier this week after six years.
Colonel Glenn McNeill of the N.C. Highway Patrol shared a message of hope and the story of how violence effected his family. Thirty-six years ago, his mother was killed in a case that remains unsolved.
“I would love to stand before you and say these thirty-six years, it’s gotten better, but it has not. I miss my Mother dearly. I wish she could see my children. I wish she could meet my wife. I wish she could meet every last member of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol family,” McNeill said.
Dozens of state troopers attended as Trooper Kevin Conner was included in tonight’s honorees and members of his family were present to accept a rose in his memory.
Several speakers also urged anyone who may be grieving, particularly as we go into the holiday season, to not hesitate to seek professional help.
WECT’s Jon Evans serves as emcee of the annual event which is held alternately every year between New Hanover and Brunswick counties.