FORT WAYNE – Even though Willie Pete Woods was killed in 1994, the memory of his death is still as fresh as ever for his family.
It’s been 19 years, but it’s just like yesterday for us, his aunt, Wendy Woods, said Tuesday evening, standing alongside about a half dozen relatives.
They all wore crisp, white T-shirts that showed her nephew’s smiling face. And they had all come to the Allen County Courthouse for a vigil to remember Pete Woods and hundreds of other crime victims.
Every time we talk about him, it keeps him alive, Woods’ aunt said.
Woods’ relatives were part of a crowd of about 150 people who gathered in the courthouse rotunda for an event held by the Fort Wayne Police Department’s victim assistance program in coordination with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
During the vigil, the names of homicide victims from the last three years were read aloud as their loved ones held battery-powered lights shaped like small candles.
Carlton Lynch, a pastor at New Beginnings Church, stood behind the back row during the event. He has eulogized many homicide victims, so he had come to show support for their families.
I think it’s important to remember the past, he said, and to encourage the remaining to be strong.
Before the vigil, several officials spoke to the crowd, including Mayor Tom Henry, Police Chief Rusty York and Lynnice Hamilton, director of the victim assistance program.
When you experience something like a homicide, it really takes another person who understands to encourage you to go on, said Hamilton, who lost her sister to a homicide. We must decide not to live the rest of our lives as victims. We must power back.
On the edge of the crowd was a tall board with photos of victims and the message, Gone, But Not Forgotten. Below those words was a list of about 700 names of victims of homicides, dating back to 1980.
So far this year, 15 deaths in Fort Wayne and Allen County have been ruled homicides, including two shootings by police and one death from injuries suffered in a 1980 shooting.
In response to the killings, the Fort Wayne Urban League has hosted two community meetings to develop a plan of how to end violence in the city. A third meeting is slated for 6 p.m. Friday at Prime Time, 3701 S. Calhoun St.
York told the crowd he has not seen the community so motivated since he became chief 12 1/2 years ago. He said the city’s pastors and residents have recognized that violence is a significant problem and needs to be addressed.
It doesn’t matter where a homicide occurs. It matters that it’s detracting from our lives and community, York said. We’re becoming more and more outraged with what’s going on in our community, and we just want it to stop.