WEST ASHLEY SC (WCSC) - Dozens of families filled John Wesley United Methodist Church Thursday in honor of loved ones who have been murdered. The 15th annual vigil was dedicated to Charleston County deputy Joe Matuskovic, who was killed in the line of duty on September 8.
Organizers say the holidays can be especially tough for homicide survivors. They say the vigil is meant to give them support during a very difficult time.
"Being around other people who went through these things. We get to hug each other, laugh, cry, shed tears together."
"People, complete strangers you don't even know, come up and say can I just give you a hug, and that helps a lot to let you know that there is still hope in the world."
This is the first year Teresa Gardner has attended the Survivors of Homicide Service of Remembrance.Gardnerr lost her son, Maraleius Birdsong, almost three years ago. He was shot to death while delivering a pizza. Gardner says she realizes how fortunate she and her family are that her son's killers were brought to justice. She says she hopes to offer some measure of comfort to others.
"You can find strength in other people who can share what you've been through because if you've not been there, there are just things you've never felt."
Danielle Richardson lost her mother in 1991 to domestic violence. She says while it has been years, the pain sits right under the surface.
"Losing a family member to a murder is just a different type of suffering and pain, and, for me, it was very hard because I actually witnessed my mom's death."
As Birdsong's family prepares to mark three years without him, they say all they can do is live one day at a time.
"Some days it's really, really hard," says Gardner. "Other days it's easier. It's more tolerable."
"Couple of years have passed...let me go on and see Maraleius, and he's never coming back," says Julianna Cruz, Birdsong's aunt. "We'll never be back there again."