Donna Nash paused briefly when walking on stage Tuesday night, lingering for a moment by a table adorned with candles and nearly two dozen pictures of people killed in acts of violence.
Nash quickly kissed the picture of her son, Jonathan Calvert, before stepping up to the microphone to tell nearly 300 people one of her favorite memories she has of her child.
“We’d always sit on our front yard glider and sing songs, while we waited for his father to come home from work,” she said. “One of those songs was always ‘Amazing Grace.’
“I just miss him so much.”
Nash and the relatives of homicide victims spoke Tuesday night at the sixth annual Evening of Remembrance, at the Chapel on the Campus at LSU.
The event honors murder victims by allowing families to share treasured thoughts, said Sgt. Carolyn Stapleton, director of the Sheriff’s Office Crime Victims’ Assistance Division and organizer of the memorial.
Bonnie Hunt, mother of Alexandra Engler — killed Sept. 24 during a burglary — said she wanted to honor her daughter with the one-year anniversary of Alexandra’s death on Saturday.
“She was my only child, and I just wanted to share how very much I loved her,” Engler said before the ceremony started.
Hunt told the audience she was proud to be Engler’s mother, and her fondest memory is watching her daughter have her own child.
Hunt’s granddaughter, Ariana, was wounded during the burglary, but Hunt said Tuesday she is “recovering physically.”
Many of the families said they hoped speaking out publicly would help them recover emotionally.
“I just knew I had to do this,” Nash said. “I’m hoping for just a little bit of closure.”
Stapleton said past participants have told her they found solace in sharing memories, and many return.
Annette Clement and Elizabeth Goodwill held a framed picture of Clement’s son, Yuri Clement, while speaking of his death.
Yuri Clement, 21, a Southern University student, was shot at his apartment in a case of mistaken identity, she said.
The women spoke at last year’s memorial — an experience they called uplifting — and were compelled to return, they said.
“I was amazed at the program,” said Goodwill, Yuri Clement’s godmother. “It wasn’t sorrowful. It touched me. I knew we weren’t alone.”
While the women talked about how long it had been since Yuri Clement died, a woman sitting nearby turned and said it had been a little more than a year since she lost her child.
Cheryl Badger said her daughter Nicholl Badger died in an August 2010 robbery.
The women consoled one another, sharing experiences, frustrations and pain.
Stapleton said one of the goals of the Evening of Remembrance is to help grieving relatives know they’re not alone.
“They get to talk to one another,” Stapleton said. “They’re feeling so alone, like they’re the only one in the world going through this. But then everyone else at the ceremony can say, ‘I understand how you feel,’ and they know it’s real.”
Also conveying that message of solidarity to the survivors were elected officials and representatives of law enforcement agencies who addressed the crowd.
“Your suffering is our suffering,” said U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux. “Ours pales in comparison, but know that we’re here to make sure those who are victimized receive justice.”
The pledge to bring those responsible for the families’ pain to justice was echoed by the guest speakers.
“As I look in this audience, I can see there are people hurting,” said Judge J.E. Welch Jr. “We can’t bring back what you’ve lost, but know that we’re there to give you some justice, some peace.”