Surviving loved ones of murder victims gathered at Heritage Point in Wheeling Tuesday to remember their lost family members.
Sharon Parker, victim/witness coordinator for the Ohio County Prosecutor's Office, planned the Sixth Annual Murder Victim Day of Remembrance and Candlelight Vigil and welcomed family members as well as local law enforcement officials.
Prosecutor Scott Smith told the audience that Ohio County is fortunate to have such qualified and efficient officers serving the area with the Wheeling Police Department, Ohio County Sheriff's Department and the West Virginia State Police. Smith also praised Parker for her work in coordinating the event.
Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball said officers investigating murders never forget the victims or their families as they try to solve the cases.
Chris Frizell, victim coordinator for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, also attended.
Terri Blankenship's daughter, Ashley, was murdered by Jarrell Hurt on Sept. 13, 2009. Terri Blankenship said she served time in prison herself and learned life was not too bad behind bars. She said she is spearheading an effort to change sentencing laws in West Virginia in an effort to keep violent offenders locked up for longer periods of time.
Ashley's brother, Charles Blankenship, said the loss of his sister led him to a life of depression and bad decision making. He remembered their childhood being filled with laughter, singing, dancing and pleasant times.
John Ramser remembered his troubled cousin killing family members before taking his own life. Ramser urged people to be alert for family members exhibiting troubling behavior and to be available to help them cope with what is bothering them.
Shawn Fluharty said vigils like the one held Tuesday give surviving family members a place to vent their feeling with others who have suffered the same pain. He said his aunt, uncle and cousin were killed in Triadelphia in 2009.
Two boys whose mother, Christina Anderson, apparently was killed in Martins Ferry in September 2006, honored their mother with brief statements. Anderson's body has never been found. Her husband James Anderson, who committed suicide, left a note saying he had killed Christina and that authorities would never find her body.
Stella Bryan remembered her brother Frank Birch, who was murdered on Nov. 7, 1987, in Wheeling. She said he is not forgotten and that events like the vigil enable survivors to keep their memories alive.
Pastor Willie Nevell opened the vigil with a prayer while disc jockey Terry Hartline provided music. Parker said past vigils have allowed people to exchange phone numbers and email addresses so they can continue to help one another.