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Help and healing in times of darkness
Friends and Families aid victims of violent crimes throughout the county
EVERETT I believed that I was going to die from the grief, said one-time Marysville resident Jenny Wieland Ward.
Wards daughter Amy Ragan was murdered at age 17 in an Everett apartment on Nov. 21, 1992. Amy was a student at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Ward doesnt discuss the details surrounding her daughters death, but said the killer, another teen, was caught and convicted of first-degree manslaughter.
He got 41 months for shooting Amy in the back of the head, Ward said. Her voice is calm and neutral, but she doesnt need to even mention her clear belief that sentence was nowhere near long enough.
During the lengthy course of the trial, the Snohomish County Prosecutors Office referred Ward to an advocacy agency, Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims.
I went to a support group, Ward said, adding she met a fellow victim, a woman who had lost her daughter more than 20 years earlier.
I just thought, Wow, you can survive this, Ward said.
Eventually, as you might expect, Ward became a volunteer for Friends and Families, taking the required 40-hour training course to become a facilitator for support groups. In 1994, she founded her own organization, Mothers against Violence in America. But in July 2002, she returned to Friend and Families, this time as executive director.
Based in Everett but serving all of Snohomish and Island counties, Friends and Families acts as advocates and helps counsel those suffering through the aftermath of violent crimes. While they no doubt wish their services were not so much in demand, Families and Friends specialty is dealing with homicides. The families of murder victims made up 54 percent of the agencys clients last year. Assault victims accounted for another 22 percent of those using the groups services.
Families and Friends also offers aid to those having gone through kidnappings, violent robberies, home invasions and gang-related or hate crimes. They will assist the victims in cases of drunk or impaired driving incidents. Making them still somewhat unique, the group does not deal with sexual assaults or domestic violence. When the organization was founded in 1975, Ward said it was the only advocacy group in the state focused on the victims of non-sexually related violence.
Friends and Families Victims Advocate Carmen Quillen said the organizations involvement often starts with a call from a victim or from a prosecutor. The group offers a 24-hour crisis hotline. They lobby for victims rights with state and national authorities. They can intervene with the media.
Still, Quillen and others said, most importantly, Families and Friends will stand with, and aid in just about anyway possible, the families or direct victims of crimes as their cases wind their way through the justice system. They will send representatives to every court hearing, every trial date. They will help write the victims impact statement, which is submitted to the court when the perpetrator is sentenced.
Cases can take years to make their way through the justice system. That seems to especially happen with regard to homicides.
According to Ward there were eight murders in Snohomish County in 2007. But there are 24 active murder cases in one local court system or another. In the infamous murder case of Rachel Burkheimer in 2002, Ward said there were eight suspects and three trials.
I look on this as, these people are going through the worst thing that could ever happen to them, Quillen said. I can help them. Its almost exhilarating.
She said her favorite part of the job is explaining the legal system to often baffled clientele. She noted most prosecutors offices are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. operations.
We are available 24 hours a day, if you need somebody to talk to in the middle of the night. And thats when the demons creep in, said Karen Leppard, who runs the Friends and Family hotline. She started as a volunteer with the group two years ago.
While many victims just need to talk, Leppard said the monetary compensation available to the families of crime victims, as well as to crime survivors, is often a major topic of conversation on the hotline. She said many callers are unaware there may be money available to help with legal and hospital bills, or in worse case scenarios, funeral expenses.
In terms of government advocacy, the Friends and Families Web site lists an entire page of legislation it is either supporting or fighting against for one reason or another. Ward strongly opposes the wait-and-see approach many police departments take with missing persons. In the Burkheimer case, her parents called Friends and Families prior to police taking any action. The same thing happened in the case of a man who police later found murdered on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.
Families and Friends constantly faces a bit of a funding crunch. In 2006, state legislators split Washington into 13 crime victim service centers. Friends and Families is now the official service organization for non-sexual assault victims in Snohomish and Island counties. But funding still isnt on a par with that given for groups focused on sexual assaults and domestic violence.
For example, for the current two-year state funding cycle, sex crime and domestic violence groups received some $20 million from Olympia. Other crimes received $2 million for the same period. By the time the dollars were split among the various districts, Friends and Families ended up with $60,000 from the state. In terms of running a social service organization Ward admits the figure is underwhelming.
It was historic, though, in that for the first time the state recognized other agencies deserved dedicated funding, she said.
Operating on a projected $600,000 budget, Friends and Families closes the funding gap with private donations and corporate sponsorships. Held last year in July at Marysvilles Cedarcrest Golf Course, an annual golf tournament is one of their big fundraisers.