By Connie Saindon

Murder. It’s a fact of life that never goes away. Nor does murder’s impact on the survivors: those who must deal with a horrific new reality in their lives.

On Sept. 25, the National Day of Remembrance of Murder Victims, we will be reminded of this fact as survivors gather to memorialize their murdered loved ones.

Crime rates have dropped in major cities nationwide. Nonetheless, there are roughly 15,000 homicides in the U.S. each year, according to government agencies. The FBI Crime Clock estimates one person is murdered in the United States every 35.6 minutes. These statistics do not include suicide or violent deaths due to negligence or catastrophe.

In San Diego County, the murder rate in 2013 fell to 70 homicides from 110 in 2012. Even so, anything above zero is unacceptable.

Murder often gets sensational headlines in news coverage, but the survivors and the challenges they face in the aftermath of murder typically get short shrift. Yet, the murder of a loved one is a death that no one “gets over”; there is no closure. Seven to ten people are seriously impacted by each violent death, and this “collateral damage” accumulates incrementally each year. There is a potential of 150,000 murder survivors impacted each year, meaning that today millions of Americans live under this shadow of murder and violent death.

For most people, it happens to someone else, to someone else’s mother or father, son or daughter, sister or brother. Until it happens to them. Suddenly, following that phone call or knock on the door, the survivors—the co-victims—find themselves in a mind-numbing whirl of disbelief and chaos. Their world crumbles around them as they have to not only deal with their grief, but the criminal justice system, an intrusive news media, and perhaps a life-time of parole hearings. They have a new and public “murder” identity. Who they were before is changed forever.

Survivors’ questions are many: Is this true? Who did this? Are we safe? What do I do now? Who can I trust? Survivors often say: “We have been given a life sentence for a crime we didn’t commit.” Their world is shattered. They don’t know where to turn for help. The resources, while growing, are still scant.

Similar to our soldiers, many survivors are at risk for PTSD and other health problems, such as depression and substance abuse. They may be unable to return to work or school for an extended period of time. Thus, murder has a significant impact not only on individuals and families, but society as a whole.

To increase awareness of this socially important challenge, Congress designated a National Day of Remembrance of Murder Victims to be recognized annually on Sept. 25. This year, survivors throughout that nation will come together to remember and honor their loved ones. One of the key aspects in these events is that the survivors have an opportunity to talk about who their loved one was, before he or she was murdered.

In San Diego, the annual River of Remembrance event was held on Saturday, Sept. 20, at 10 a.m, at the Crime Victims Oak Garden, which was established in honor of murder victim Cara Knott. More information about the event is available at svlnetwork.wordpress.com.

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Connie Saindon is a murder survivor, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and the author of Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources, which is being released on Sept. 25. She is the founder of the nonprofit Survivors of Violent Loss Program in San Diego and initiated the River of Remembrance event.

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