Priscilla Peggs, of Women’s Aid in Crisis, speaks at the vigil, as members of the Sargent family look on. From left: Peggs and Betty, Dawn and Robert Sargent.
BUCKHANNON — For every person lost in a senseless tragedy, survivors carry on, including family, friends and other loved ones.
That’s the message the group Parents of Murdered Children aims to send by holding candlelight vigils across the country each Sept. 25, the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
On Tuesday night at the courthouse, some of those left behind gathered for their own vigil to remember the lost and grieve together.
Parents of Murdered Children is an organization that provides services and support for the families and friends of those who have died by violence.
It held more than 100 similar events throughout the country on Sept. 25, according to Robert Sargent, a former Buckhannon resident and co-chair of the Parents of Murdered Children group in Philadelphia.
Sargent and his grandmother, Betty, of French Creek, planned the vigil.
Robert said they also held a vigil in Buckhannon last year, but that vigil was more in recognition of his mother, who died in an act of domestic violence 25 years prior.
This year, he said, the vigil focused on all survivors.
Sargent said vigils are meant to remind the community that after a homicide, survivors remain behind, and it also helps those survivors know that the victim will never be forgotten.
Betty Sargent gave the introduction. She told attendees that she’s in the process of starting a local Parents of Murdered Children group.
The group will likely meet twice monthly, once in Upshur County and once in Harrison County, she said.
Chief of Police Matt Gregory asked for a moment of silence for the three police officers who were recently killed in the line of duty in West Virginia.
He then cited statistics on domestic violence provided by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
One in four women has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, and one-third of homicides in West Virginia are related to domestic violence, according to the WVCADV.
Gregory said sometimes people hear statistics, and think, “That doesn’t happen here.”
“Just because Buckhannon is a small town doesn’t mean we’re immune,” he said. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
When those tragedies occur, law enforcement wear many hats, according to Gregory.
Sometimes, the best thing they can do is be a counselor or comforter.
He said in 16 years of law enforcement experience, he’d seen some horrible things that made him wonder how people can be capable of such violence.
“A lot of times we don’t have an answer,” he said. “All we can do is be that shoulder to cry on.”
Laura Queen, Upshur County victim coordinator, said in her experience as a victim advocate, she has learned that survivors’ pain doesn’t end with the incarceration of a perpetrator.
Vigil attendees also listened to a recorded version of “I’ll See You Again,” performed by Westlife.
Robert Sargent said the chorus of the song really spoke to him: “I’ll see you again, you never really left, I feel you walk beside me, I know I’ll see you again.”
Virgil Miller, sheriff, addressed the group.
In 37 years of law enforcement, he said, “I’ve seen a lot of stuff.”
But one story stuck with him.
“I believe in ghosts because I have one that walks with me,” he said. “She’s a beautiful 4-year-old girl.”
Her name was Amanda, and she was a victim of sexual and physical abuse before she died 20 years ago.
Miller said he hadn’t planned to share that story.
The sheriff provided several tips for making it through the holidays after losing a family member or loved one.
He said survivors should plan ahead and expect the holidays to be painful.
“Don’t always think tears are a bad thing,” he said.
They should be flexible, say no to events that make them uncomfortable and avoid overwhelming themselves.
They shouldn’t try to forget the person lost, he said. He suggested writing a letter to them, setting an extra place at the table, hanging a stocking or decorating the gravesite.
He also reminded them to take care of themselves, and remember the dreariness of January could bring more pain.
Priscilla Peggs, from Women’s Aid in Crisis, spoke next.
She described the services for victims of domestic violence available at the agency.
Betty Sargent asked if anyone else would like to say something.
Pat Radcliff, a friend of the Sargent’s, chose to speak.
“I never met their mother,” she said. “But I know her through them.”
“She was terrific, because they’re terrific.
She asked survivors to please seek help.
Debra Wilfong-Cork, a longtime friend of Robert Sargent, sang “We Are The Survivors,” a song about those left behind after a homicide.
Robert and Betty Sargent closed the event.
Robert Sargent said he hated the word “closure.”
“There is no closure,” he said.
He also spoke about the Parents of Murdered Children group starting up in the area.
“If anyone knows people that might be helped by this, let us know,” he said.
He concluded the vigil with a favorite quote.
“The difference between the living and the dead is the remembered and the forgotten.”