Day of Remembrance Address: Parents of Murdered Children

September 25, 2009

Augusta, Maine

Today, as the leaves on the maple and birch trees change, as the fair season celebrates the fruits of our gardens and farms, as the winds of autumn chill our hands, our hearts now turn, for a few short minutes, to the losses we have suffered, here and across the land.

At this moment, we join thousands of citizens across the country, grieving the violent deaths of loved ones.

I remember Emma Waters, a courageous woman, victim of domestic abuse, who came to me for help. With her cooperation, I indicted her husband, while she took refuge first at one shelter, then another, then one in another state to be sure she was safe, because, under the laws at that time, he had made bail. When I heard from confidential sources that he was headed to New Hampshire, I called her up; I was the only person with her phone number. I begged her to stay safe. She assured me he couldn’t possibly know where she was. Three days later she was found dead by the side of Route 2 outside of Concord, New Hampshire, shot in the head. Some months later I was the leadoff witness in his murder trial. I got to see what it was like to be a witness, to drive through a snow storm, to sit for hours outside a courtroom, to testify, to identify the deceased from a terrible photo totally lacking her personality and soul.

I remember Gil Landry, a state trooper about the same age as these gentlemen standing beside me. Gil was happy to become a detective and work in my office. He was proud though to have a new suit, to be in plain clothes, feeling safe to be off the road, helping children, victims of domestic violence and abuse. Safe, that is, until he went out to do his last interview and was shot through the heart, killed instantly by the target of his investigation.

Here in Maine we boast the lowest homicide rate in the country-usually tying for last place with Vermont. We are proud of that. But that statistic does not diminish the trauma and tragedy of each violent death that occurs in our state.

Each non-natural death makes us feel unsafe. Each of these tragedies leaves an unfilled hole in our lives, in our families, in our communities.

We have had 17 homicides this year to date. We had a record 31 last year, 60% of them related to domestic violence, a doubling of the actual number of DV homicides. Five of these were deaths of infants and toddlers. More and more of these are multiple homicides, and all too many of these deaths are (still) the result of domestic violence.

These are not simply dry statistics. Each death is different. It is not the quick and dirty, unfeeling death we see on television dozens of times each night on network crime shows. These are real human lives cut short. These are families torn asunder. These are towns and communities ripped apart. They bring permanent consequences.

I think of the three murder-suicide cases I had in one year alone as District Attorney, just in Franklin County—cases which quickly became yesterday’s news for most people. But which became a struggle for their families and for me as we tried to help the children who witnessed each of those three terrible crimes. Each day I remember those children. Imagine how their lives simply stopped, after seeing their parents fight, kill one another, kill themselves.

In the coming months and years, I desperately want to reach out to the children in our schools and to young men in our society, to try to turn around this terrible trend.

I don’t suggest that most violence is committed by men; but I do suggest that we need to give our young men better role models. We need those who are the heroes of those youngsters to send the message loud and clear that “heroes don’t hit;” that it’s in fact cool to walk away; that the best way to get even is to ignore someone who’s offended you and find another outlet, not to strike out at them; that it’s good to let off steam at the gym, not in the home; that anger is normal, but violence is not.

Today, we thank the families and friends of victims. We thank them for their great efforts, while always working through grief,--in organizing, in lobbying on behalf of loved ones whose voices are no longer heard, in establishing this wonderful memorial to their lives. We thank them and pledge to work with them to complete the dream, to establish a permanent place for eternal remembrance, a so that the names of these loved ones will forever be enscribed, always remembered and never forgotten.

So as the leaves fall, as our hearts turn to harvests and hay rides, we take this moment to remember those who cannot enjoy this lovely autumn day, those whose souls have left us through tragedy and who have left a hole in our hearts. And we reaffirm our resolve that they shall not have died in vain.

Thank you.