Saskia Burke, 18. Shanae Wesley, 23. Larry Robinson, 64. Wanda McGlover, 68. Christine Stewart, 47. Samuel Vanettes, 36. George Alongi, 76. Ryan Armstrong, 22. Kerianne Bradley, 517 days.
Holding flickering candles, clusters of family and friends listened Wednesday night as officials read aloud the names of 75 southwest Riverside County homicide victims taken within recent years.
“Being a crime victim or murder victim can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, gender or race,” said Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, who was on hand to host the county’s 10th annual Crime Victims’ Candlelight Vigil. They “must never, never be forgotten.”
The Temecula ceremony, held at Harveston Lake Park, was one of three scheduled this week in Riverside County in conjunction with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 21-27.
“We know and appreciate and understand the victims do not always receive the dignity and respect that they deserve. Victims are the ones that oftentimes absorb the emotional, physical and financial cost of crime, largely by themselves,” Zellerbach said.
Joining the DA’s office in reading the names were elected officials, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, Murrieta Mayor Rick Gibbs and Murrieta Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Bennett.
The DA’s Office will be adding 81 names to its memorial wall this year to signify those lost to violent crime countywide during 2012, Zellerbach said.
“Those numbers are way too high,” the District Attorney said.
“It is continually amazing to me—I have been involved in the criminal justice system for 35 years in this county, 24 as a prosecutor and 11 as a Superior Court judge—and I am continually amazed by what power and strength the victims’ families and loved ones have in the face of evil," Zellerbach said. "And that is what allows the people in my office to continue to do what they do, because we see how it affects you and how it protects society and that is extremely important.”
One survivor—Cheryl Plato, whose daughter, 27-year-old Elizabeth “Bipsy” Amirian, was murdered in Temecula by ex-fiancee Mickey Wagstaff in February 2009—was invited to be the guest speaker for Wednesday’s event.
“I wish I could describe her to you but I can’t,” said Plato, as she mustered the courage to address the crowd. “...She was my baby and the one who liked hanging out with me the most. Being around her was a gift, one I thought I would have forever.”
Plato’s coping mechanisms included getting in her car and driving, screaming at the top of her lungs and crying. She continues to cry almost daily, she said.
“But I am here to talk about victims’ rights,” Plato said. “...As you know we are engaged in a battle...violent criminals are being let out early and they go out and reoffend. Some go on to rape and murder again...we can not allow this to happen. We have to stand up and fight for victims’ rights. We can not let our loved ones down.”
She encouraged survivors to support law enforcement.
“They are the ones who speak for the innocent victims, they are the ones who get the bad guys, who fight to put our loved ones’ killers away. They are often in life-threatening situations...For those murdered who are no longer here, they are their voice.”