This is a counselor?s corner. Sometimes victims say it better than counselors. I am publishing this in honor of Patricia Collum who was murder October 6, 1991. This was written by her sister, Mitzie.
In October 1991, my only sister, Patricia Collum, was murdered. In nineteen years, no one has been charged with her murder. Having joined VOCAL shortly after my sister?s murder, I have been involved with a number of families who have lost a loved one to violence. The lack of communication and support that I have seen from law enforcement agencies in these cases has made me aware of how fortunate we were to have the police officers that investigated my sister?s murder. I felt that their desire to solve her murder was almost as intense as my need to have it solved.
For nineteen years, investigators from the Chilton County Sheriff?s Department and the Alabama Bureau of Investigations have worked to solve this case. Often my mother or I have had questions related to the case. If Sheriff Fulmer (Chilton County) or an investigator is not in when we call, they return our calls promptly. The same thing is true of the ABI agent who worked her case. In my work with VOCAL, contacts with some law enforcement agencies on behalf of relatives of other victims have not been fruitful. I do not find the compassion and understanding that we were fortunate enough to have. My hope is that those who investigate crimes could have just a little compassion that we were shown. I wish that those who investigate crimes could realize how important it is to the families of victims to know that someone truly cares and works tirelessly to seek justice for the victim. After nineteen years, I have not given up hope that my sister?s murderer will be brought to justice because I know that there are police officers who want justice as badly as I do.
I have often been asked about the difference in the feelings I have as a family member of a victim whose crime has not been solved, compared to those that have been solved. My initial response is that having witnessed the justice system at work, I know that ?the truth? usually has nothing to do with it. I have seen witnesses in court swear before God to tell the truth, yet I have personal knowledge of the lies they told. I have had to realize that only God knows the truth and is capable of adequate punishment. I guess my feelings arise from a basic need for vengeance. As my sister?s murder was not a capital crime, the perpetrator would not be given the death penalty.
However, I feel that anything short of that sentence would not be just. When I think of the person who could look into the eyes of Patricia Collum and cut her throat and watch the life drain out, I certainly feel hatred. When I think of the love she had for children and the lost possibilities of her relationship with her children and grandchildren, I certainly feel hatred. But I have realized over the years that I cannot fix it- I can?t make the person pay for what they have done, even though that was my initial feeling. I guess that is the next thing I should work on-that need for vengeance.
I have often heard family members of victims say that they just want things to get back to normal. When my sister was murdered, I remember the urgent feeling that we had to take care of her-we had to get her body back from the coroner, we had to get her buried, we had to get a tombstone for her grave. Thinking at the time that each step in that process would bring life back to normal. Yet in the end we face the reality that things will never be normal again. You keep thinking when you are driving down the road that you will meet her and wave as you did before. I remember dreaming numerous times that I was going through the process of arranging her funeral again-reliving the horror of the process over and over. While attending parole hearings on behalf of other victims? families, I have seen the emotional strain brought about by facing the possibility of having their family member?s murderer released back to society. Participation in the process brings back all of the feelings of anger, despair, and hopelessness originally experienced by the victims families.
My participation in VOCAL has helped me so much. It has allowed me to share feelings with others that have had similar experiences. Most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to help others. Attending trials and parole hearings allows me to demonstrate my support of the victim?s family. Some victims? families are unable to participate in such activities because it is so painful for them. It brings up feelings that are too difficult to deal with again. As victims? advocates, we must understand the differences in how people are able to deal with the trauma they have experienced.
Even if you do not know the family of a victim personally, you can assist in our efforts to support all victims by supporting legislation that protects their rights. You can support legislation that requires criminals to serve their sentence and not be released after serving only a third of it. You can support victims? advocacy organizations by providing monetary support during their fund-raising efforts. Fighting crime and leniency toward criminals requires the joint efforts of victims and non-victims alike.
Before my sister?s murder, I certainly never thought that I would have to deal with something that horrible. I thought that things like that only happen to other people. However, the reality is that it happens to people every day; people who never thought it would happen to them. I am reminded of an incident that occurred several years ago when I was volunteering at the VOCAL office. A young man who came in to repair some office equipment looked at the pictures of the victims on the walls and asked Miriam Shehane who they were. When she informed them they were victims, he stated that they looked like normal people. Unfortunately, crime happens everyday to normal people.
Mitzie Wheat, sister of Patricia Collum