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Justice center holds annual crime victims vigil

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Claudia Barnes, the wife of the late Judge Rowland Barnes who was killed in the Fulton County Courthouse shooting spree, speaks during Tuesday's annual candlelight vigil for crime victims at the Gwinnett Justicer and Administration Center. Behind Barnes is one of two Christmas trees decorated with ornaments, pictures and messages in remembrance of crime victims.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Claudia Barnes, the wife of the late Judge Rowland Barnes who was killed in the Fulton County Courthouse shooting spree, speaks during Tuesday's annual candlelight vigil for crime victims at the Gwinnett Justicer and Administration Center. Behind Barnes is one of two Christmas trees decorated with ornaments, pictures and messages in remembrance of crime victims.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Michele Bowen, 8, holds a picture of her sister Ashli Bowen, who died in 2006 in by vehicular homicide. Standing by her side is her sister Annabell, 10. Both are being held by their mother, Dawn, during Tueday's candlelight vigil for crime victims at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. The event is put on by the Gwinnett County District Attorneyis Office.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Marlen Martinez holds her daughter, Karley, 2, as they light a candle to remember their late uncle, Sergio Martinez, who died on Jan. 1, 2011.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Claudia Barnes shared her story with more than 100 strangers Tuesday night, one of tragedy, remembrance and moving forward. The tale was one many in the audience were likely familiar with, but the message was a much needed one, and one filled with hope.

"God makes no mistakes," Barnes said, "as he puts your where you need to be, and with the people you need to be with."

The Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center was again host to the district attorney's annual candlelight vigil Tuesday, welcoming in friends and family members of victims affected by crime's wide-reaching grasp.

Barnes is the widow of Rowland Barnes, the Fulton County judge killed on the job during Brian Nichols' now infamous 2005 shooting spree. That rampage also took the life of a sheriff's deputy and a court reporter -- the latter long-time Snellville resident Julie Ann Brandau.

Nichols was ultimately apprehended in Duluth.

Barnes -- whom victim witness program director Stan Hall called "an absolute advocate for crime victims' rights" -- shared her story Tuesday as those in the audience wept and remembered their own loved ones.

"I believe that God can bring good fortune out of the worst situation, and can use suffering to mold our character and make us a better person," she said. "What matters most in the aftermath of a tragedy is how we move forward, and whether or not we make a testimony out of that tragedy."

Hall read aloud the names of each of the 19 Gwinnettians killed in 2011: names like Sergio Martinez, killed by celebratory gunfire just seconds into the new year; like Andrea Nassos, her body found in a burning car in May; and like Gerardo Puga-Puga, allegedly stabbed to death just two weeks ago by his girlfriend's ex-husband.

The toll of a small bell served as a somber reminder of all their lives.

"We are all here to think about things that happened through no fault of the person it happened to," Hall said, "and to seek justice in any way that we can to make sure that it doesn't happen to anyone else."