Families gather for candlelight vigil in honor of crime victims

LAWRENCEVILLE - Helen Thayer is going to have a hard time celebrating Christmas this year.

Christmas - for many, a time of celebration - is the day before the first anniversary of Thayer's daughter's slaying. Thayer said her daughter, Angela, was found dead Dec. 28, two days after she had been killed.

Thayer, a College Park resident, joined the family and friends of other victims of violent crimes in remembering their loved ones on Tuesday evening during the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office Victim Witness Program's Annual Victims of Crime Candlelight Vigil.

"It's wonderful ... knowing that I'm not alone," said Thayer, who took the day off from work without pay to attend the vigil with her grandchildren.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said the vigil is a "bittersweet time."

For elected officials and law enforcement officers, it's a time to remember that their job is to serve people in their greatest time of need, Porter said.

For the family and friends of victims, it's a reminder that they are not alone in their suffering, Porter said.

"As long as we stand together and as long as we remember, our loved ones are here," Porter said. "If we forget, they're gone."

Lt. Gov.-elect Casey Cagle, who spoke at the vigil, said it was fitting to remember the victims of violent crimes.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, 40,000 of the state's 9 million residents were victims of a violent crime last year, Cagle said. Of those victims, 526 were murdered, he said.

"We must never forget that behind every number, there is a person," Cagle said. "Behind every number, there is a family changed by every horrible act."

The vigil put names with the number of people who have died this year. The names of victims who died this year were read, and those in attendance lit candles and walked outside for a prayer after the ceremony.

The names of the victims were also placed on ornaments that decorated a Christmas tree, said Stan Hall, the director of the Victim Witness Program.

After the ceremony, Thayer searched out her daughter's ornament, which featured Angela's photo and her lifespan: 1969 to 2005.

There has been an arrest in Angela's death, but Thayer said it will take some time before the trial begins - before the day of her death is brought to justice.

In the meantime, Thayer said she will keep coming back to the vigil, where she can join others who remember the lives instead of the numbers.