AHOSKIE—It looked like a typical picnic gathering between friends—chatting, laughing, food and games.
However, if there is one thing each in this group has perfected, it is hiding their scars well. This circle of friends has been brought together by the most tragic of circumstances.
For the past 19 years, a support group for the families of murder victims and victims of traumatic events has gathered together for venting, friendship and healing.
Last week, the group met behind the District Attorney’s Office for their annual picnic.
According to 6B District Attorney Valerie Asbell, the support group was created by former District Attorney David Beard, who saw the need to help victims’ families deal with their loss.
“It’s a member run group, we just house it,” said Asbell. “It’s continued to grow; unfortunately, because of the homicide rate there are more and more members.”
Asbell said her five victim witness advocates do a “wonderful job” making sure newsletters get out and encouraging new families of victims to join the support group.
Carolyn Jernigan, the president of the support group, said each month approximately 10-12 regular members come together. Each meeting begins with invocation followed by a group talk. A variety of guest speakers, from pastors of diverse denominations to doctors to counselors to law enforcement officers, are invited to the meetings to address the group.
The support the members receive often goes beyond the meetings—late-night phone calls and parole hearings are other facets.
“It’s a nice fellowship,” said Jernigan about the group. “If you feel depressed and you can pick up the phone and call someone, it makes it easier.”
Jernigan, of Lewiston, has her own reason for her involvement in the group. Her husband, Pete, was killed in a car crash in 2005. Jernigan said her husband’s vehicle was struck from behind by another vehicle. Pete was ejected from his automobile and survived for nearly two months in the hospital before succumbing to his injuries.
“I still miss him,” she said.
It is solace Jernigan, along with many more, have found with the support group.
Joyce Jones of Murfreesboro is member who sought the comfort of the group after losing a loved one.
Jones’ brother, Hertford County Deputy Paul Futrell, was killed in the line of duty in September of 1992 when he responded to a domestic violence call.
At the picnic, Jones sat with her and Paul’s sister, Dorothy Dublin, and Paul’s goddaughter and cousin, Dominique Vaughan.
“This has helped me out a lot, it’s helped me cope with his death,” she said. “Knowing you’re with a group that has been (through) what you have been through—it helps a lot.”
That shared commonality, a thread of pain, weaves the members together as a tight-knit unit. One by one, the members filtered into the picnic greeted with a hug and a smile. When a few of members failed to show up, questions were raised and answers are sought.
An unbreakable bond seems to exist between each of the members who are all part of an alliance no one wants to be in.
It’s been 13 years since her son was killed, but Betty Ward of Murfreesboro still comes to the support group meetings.
The loss of her child is still an open wound for Ward and she admits there are days she can talk about what happened and other days “it’s not the time to talk about it.”
“You don’t forget, but you learn to deal with it,” she said.
In 1996, Travis Ward was murdered by a peer. He was just 15 years old.
Ward said when she first joined the support group there were a lot of emotions she didn’t know how to deal with. She said her other children have been helped by the group as well.
“I still continue to come to support people…I know what they’re going through,” she said. “It lets them know it’s OK to talk about it.”
Ward sat with Adell Overton-Warren of Ahoskie.
Warren’s nephew, Tyrell De’Shun Overton, was shot and killed in 2002.
She said being around people who have been through the same thing has helped in the healing process.
“Most of the time I work, but I come every chance I get,” she said.
Despite her experience with the legal side of the process, Asbell said she has seen the benefits and the healing process the support group can bring.
“Everyone is around when it first happens,” said Asbell. “This group always remembers.”