MARIETTA — When her father’s name was called, Christine Houk, holding a photo of her beloved parents, stood and received a single white rose, before sitting again and sobbing with her face in her palms.
Houk, who said her father, 92-year-old Adam Bennett, was murdered by his caretaker in 2017, sat in the front row at the second annual Evening of Remembrance on Tuesday. The event, put on by the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, is a candlelight vigil honoring and remembering victims of homicide.
“He was a dad that was there for his children, and he was terrific at it,” Houk said, adding that her late mother, Nancy Bennett, had been, too. “It’s so hard to lose somebody in a really violent way. That’s really hard for me and my brothers to handle.”
Bennett, who Houk said taught her to sail and “really invested” in his three children, died in the care of Landon Jean Pierre Terrel, a former employee of Sunrise of East Cobb assisted living. In July, Terrel was convicted of elder neglect but was found not guilty of the felony murder charge he faced.
Though it didn’t go her family’s way, now that the arduous trial process is over, Houk said her attendance at the vigil was a step toward final closure.
“I’m here for him. But it’s a very isolating thing when you’re involved in something like this,” the east Cobb resident said, her speech slowed by grief. “It’s comforting to see other people dealing with grief like you are too. And it kind of takes you outside your grief to realize that there are other people grieving.”
Patting the leg of the woman sitting next to her, who she hadn’t known before the vigil but who she said she’d been comforted by during the event, Houk added, “It’s just nice to sit next to someone whose heart is aching and breaking like yours is.”
That woman was Michelle Corr, who attended to remember her daughter, Anna Then.
“I’m a healer. I try to help everybody,” Corr said. “I would probably hug everybody in here if I could. ... But it’s unnerving that this is the way we have to meet.”
The trial in connection with her daughter’s death is underway, Corr said.
Tangela Brooks, whose 22-year-old son Jonathan was killed in 2011, was the night’s guest speaker. Houk’s comments echoed the remarks Brooks had just given.
“You’ve got to have some type of support to help you get through this,” Brooks said.
Jonathan Brooks was shot to death inside a computer repair store on Veterans Memorial Highway at Floyd Road in Mableton, following what Cobb police believed was a verbal dispute on May 18, 2011, the MDJ reported at the time. Jerry Wayne Lovings, 57, was later arrested in connection to the homicide and sentenced to life in prison.
Tangela Brooks said in the weeks following her son’s death, she thought she’d been “doing alright.” But, she told the crowd, four months after, she’d had a breakdown in the kitchen of the home she shares with her husband.
“Recovery is a ... process. As you begin to recover, things are going to happen. Ambushes are going to take you by surprise,” Tangela Brooks said. “I want to say to you all that are dealing with the hardships and the pains of what you’re going through with your family: Don’t lose hope, don’t lose sight, recover all. Get back that place. Get back that peace. Get back what God has promised you.”
As the names and photos of Cobb homicide victims flashed on the screens mounted around the jury assembly room in the Cobb Superior Courthouse, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes and her staff issued their condolences to the families of those killed.
Holmes said the Evening of Remembrance is meant to pay homage to those who have been lost to violent crime. Far too often, the victims of homicides are not just the victims themselves, she said, but also the loved ones they leave behind.
“As you all remember your family members, your friends, your colleagues, your faith community members, we also remember and never forget. Tonight’s candlelight vigil and homicide memorial is for you all. It’s for all of us,” Holmes said.
On a table at the front of the crowd of about 200, sat a group of candles and electric tealights. Holmes said each light represented the victims of murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, murder-suicide and unsolved cases.
“There are over 500 deceased victims that we honor tonight,” the district attorney said.
As Kennesaw Police Chief Bill Westenberger, Cobb County Deputy Police Chief Stuart Vanhoozer and Acworth Police Chief Wayne Dennard read the names of the victims whose families were in attendance, Cobb County victim advocates lit the center candles on the tables in front, and families stood to be recognized and to receive their white roses.
Kim McCoy, director of the Victim Witness Unit in the district attorney’s office, closed the event speaking for the groups of law enforcement, prosecutors and other judicial workers in the room. The families of the lost, McCoy told the crowd, are the reason she and others like her take up their oaths of service.
“It is our honor to have shared this time with you,” McCoy said, choking up. “You are why we do what we do. ... I want you to know as Joyette said in the very beginning, we do this work so that we don’t forget. We don’t forget your loved one. We don’t forget you, and we don’t forget why it is that we do what we do.”
Houk said the night’s event was a stark reminder of that sentiment. She said the effort the public servants have put in to remember the victims and their families lifts some of the burden of the senseless loss of her own loved one.
“I didn’t ever consider myself a victim. My dad was the victim,” she said. “But they consider those that are family, those people that are left behind missing loved ones, and that’s extraordinary.”