Saturday, June 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

Ceremonies ‘reclaim’ sites of homicides

They take place in alleys, back yards and vacant lots. They are places where the darkest side of humanity has emerged. Places where greed, jealousy or hatred led one person to kill another. They are Moments of Blessing, held around Pierce County wherever a murder has occurred.

Associated Ministries began holding Moments of Blessing about 15 years ago. Reverend David Alger started this when he was the leader of the organization. He got the idea from a colleague in Indianapolis, who held them in that city. The first in Tacoma was held in Titlow Park, where a man was murdered.

Bamboo poles with red ribbons bearing names of victims are brought to the ceremonies. More recently purple ribbons have been added, used to denote people who died as a result of domestic violence. Alger said 85 percent of victims where the sites are blessed died from either domestic violence or street crime.

“It is important to gather the community and to remember the person who died,” Alger said. “It is important that these sites are blessed. We bring life back to these spaces.”

Ron Vignec, formerly a pastor of Salishan Lutheran Mission, has attended many of the ceremonies over the years. Victims have ranged in age from 3 to the elderly and come from every cultural background.

Clergy and Hilltop residents gathered for a Moment of Blessing on Jan. 19 for Tyliah Young. It took place in an alley behind South Ainsworth Street, where the body of the 23-year-old woman was discovered on Jan. 13.

Several neighbors were in attendance. Alger noted that the discovery of the body was very disturbing to several children who live in a nearby house.

“Think of a moment of your life,” Vignec said. “That is all it took to kill her. Remember how precious we are to God.”

The ceremonies begin with a short greeting, in which the name of the victim of that particular site is inserted.

Alger asked if anyone present was a relative of Young, who grew up in New York City before moving here. One woman said she was close to Young. She agreed to read Psalm 23.

Young was the mother of two young daughters. One was a kindergarten student. A teacher from her school attended, holding flowers purchased by staff. She laid them down where Young’s body was found.

Chris Morton, who replaced Alger as executive director of Associated Ministries, noted that the ceremonies are not meant to spark feelings of retribution over the murder. They are meant to help people confront the fears they face during a difficult time.

“This is our alley,” Morton declared. “These are our people.”

“This neighborhood has been through a whole hell of a lot through the years,” Alger remarked.

The events draw people of many faiths. Reverend Melvin Woodworth of First United Methodist Church blessed water that was sprinkled on the people and the spot where Young’s body was found. Alger said he spoke to a group of Catholic Dominican nuns who were unable to attend because they were attending a retreat that weekend, but would take time to say prayers for Young and her daughters.

Near the end of the ceremonies, an opportunity is provided to people who want to share their thoughts about the crime and the person whose life it took. The woman who knew Young, who did not want to give her name to the media, described her as a young girl trying to do her best to move forward in life. Young had recently applied to Tacoma Community College and was accepted, although she was not enrolled in classes.

The woman said Young’s relatives in New York City told her they wished they could have been at the ceremony.

“She did not deserve to die like this, thrown in an alley like trash.”

Near the end of the ceremony, several children on the edge of the crowd were squealing and laughing, no doubt too young to understand the gravity of the situation.

Vignec said the squeals were a reminder of the joy of life. “Thank God for that.”