For families of murder victims, grieving doesn't end when the court cases finish and the offenders are sentenced. It's a process that continues for the rest of their lives.
That's why Julia Richards, director of the Cherokee Judicial Circuit's Victim-Witness Assistance Office, said it's important to remember the victims every year.
"It may look like it’s over once the court case is over, but people live with this, the loss of their loved ones, for the rest of their lives," Richards said. "They carry that loss with them. We want people to realize and to know, and the community to know, that we are not going to forget these people. They’re always going to be a part of us, and they’re always going to be remembered in our hearts. We’re going to stand with our neighbors and our community."
One local woman who recently released balloons at a monument at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Building when the man who murdered her son was sentenced broke down when she delivered a picture of her son to Richards for use in this year's ceremony.
"I’ll never forget," Richards said. "She came in, and she was holding the picture across her chest. She was holding the flower that we gave her last year and the invitation from last year, and she was bawling. She was just crying. But, it was so important for her to be here. She said she wants to continue to be a part of whatever we’re doing here to help keep the memory of her son alive."
This year's National Day of Remembrance ceremony will be held on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Clarence Brown Conference Center, and will feature a flower ceremony - during which relatives and friends of victims will receive flowers when their loved ones names are read - and a slideshow of pictures of some of the victims. In addition, former Victim-Witness Assistance Director Sandy Templeton and incoming District Attorney Rosemary Green will speak, Ashlie Rae Cupp will sing, and refreshments will be served.
Last year, approximately 300 people attended the inaugural event, and Richards said she expects at least 100 to attend this year.
"Many times with this kind of event, it can be closure for people, and it may not be something they feel like they need to attend every year," she said. "And some would. Some will be here every time. And then there are some people who couldn’t be here this year for one reason or another but sent their picture in and wanted to be included."
Officials with Richards' office will recognize 42 victims from Bartow County, 14 from Gordon County and three from Missouri. The latter group - a mother, her son and her unborn baby - are being included because the woman's sister is a Bartow County resident, and Richards said it was that woman's testimony from a flower ceremony in Missouri that got the ball rolling to start holding a ceremony locally. The family will be included in the photo slideshow.
"It’s heart werenching," Richards said. "You can see her sister, and the next slide is the sonogram picture of the baby. It just breaks your heart. Senseless acts of murder."