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Somber remembrance: Longstanding vigil pays homage to victims, families

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Ten years ago next month, Corry Trocheck's father was torn from her life by a drunken driver at the intersection of fate and random tragedy.

Then 13, Trocheck hunkered down and used the experience to advise metro Atlantans on overcoming the wickedness of crime, first at grade schools and now at city halls. She continued her quest Tuesday morning.

"Your life can be changed by someone you don't even know," Trocheck, 23, told a crowd of law enforcement, government officials and others affected by criminal behavior. "All of us are interconnected ... all of us live together."

Trocheck highlighted an annual wreath ceremony by the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office Victim Witness Program, a group she credits with helping her navigate grief.

The ceremony, much like its candle-lighting counterpart during the holidays, strives to embolden relationships between crime victims and those who helped walk them through the justice system in times of desperate sorrow.

Stan Hall, victim witness program director, cited recent U.S. Department of Justice statistics that speak to the sheer randomness of crime: That in 2009, roughly 21 million crimes were reported in the U.S., about 5 million of them violent, and 16,000 of them homicides.

Roughly one in 14 Americans was affected by crime last year.

"Truly, all of us are one act away from being a crime victim," Hall said.

The District Attorney's Office will don a large wreath through Friday in honor of National Crime Victim's Rights Week.

The wreath-hanging ceremony began about 15 years ago, Hall said, around the time the Georgia Crime Victim Bill of Rights was enacted. The measure provides certain benefits to families of high-level crime victims.

Loganville resident Kristen Woods Craig, 16, first read her poem "I Hold In My Hand" at a wreath ceremony nine years ago, the podium so tall she stood atop a box to see over.

On Tuesday, the podium was belt-high on Woods, but the poem -- an homage to her father, Keith Woods, killed in 2001 by a driver the family believes was using methamphetamine -- had changed little.

A sample verse: "I hold in my hand his picture. My father and my friend. I hold in my soul his spirit. I would die for him to live."

Woods' mother, Jenene Woods Craig, called the timeworn poem a touching summation.

"It's just a beautiful reminder," she said. "It just says it all."