San Jose Mercury News, 1991
Parents of slain help each other cope
By Shelby Grad
'I didn't do it out of altruism....I needed to break this loneliness
I was feeling.'
support group founder
It has been 10 years since her 21 year old son was murdered,
and Jean Lewis' memories
are still most painful around Christmas.
"I keep remembering the last time we saw him in person at the
airport and the last thing he
said that he'd see us at Christmas" she said of her son, Scott, who
was a student at the
University of Colorado when he and his girlfriend were abducted and
killed by drug dealers.
"That always gets me during the holidays when families are getting
see him again," she said.
Before Scott's death, there was no place in Santa Clara County
that offered support
specifically to survivors of homicide victims, who often are left with
emotional scars that
can lead to divorce, substance abuse and other problems.
Then in 1981, Lewis founded the Penninsula/South Bay Chapter
of Parents of Murdered
Children, a national self-help group that meets once a month at the
Centre for Living With
Dying in Santa Clara.
The organization, open to anyone who has family member who was
designed to help survivors combat the special problems that come with
"I didn't do it our of altruism," she said. "I needed other
people to talk to. I needed to
break this loneliness I was feeling."
Senselessness of death
The senselessness and timelessness of death in murder cases
makes the grieving process extra-difficult for survivors, who often must
also deal with a criminal justice system they
come to believe helps defendants more than the victims.
"Premature death is always hard to accept. But with the
violence (of homicide), it scares
people," Lewis said. "They don't want to talk about it.....It is a
conspiracy of silence."
Lewis knows the process and the pain all too well.
Her son was listed as missing for seven months before his body
was found. During
that time, Lewis and her family tried everything including enlisting
the help of a psychic
to locate him.
Five people were eventually arrested in connection with the
But just as the shock of finding Scott's body eased, another
jolt hit Lewis: the way the
legal system works.
Lewis decided against going to Colorado Springs for the trial
but did receive newspaper
clippings about the case. The progress of the trials so surprised her
that she called a
detective on the case to make sure the articles were accurate.
"I couldn't believe what was going on," she said. "They
were dragging my son through
the mud and making the defendants out to be so good."
The situation got worse when the man accused of firing the gun
that killed Scott went into
a vegetative state after a failed suicide attempt. Later, another
defendant tried but failed to
have his sentence substantially reduced.
"I just burst into tears. The ripples never stop," Lewis
said. "From a hurtful thing like
this, so much can hurt everyone."
Lewis first got involved in Parents of Murdered Children by
attending a meeting in Oakland.
The Penninsula/South Bay Chapter she founded now has 283 people
on its mailing list and
operates a hot line for people with questions.
The group basically provides a rap session where participants
take turns discussing their
feelings and problems.
Members say talking to other survivors about a homicide is often
easier than talking to other family members.
Many couples "are just so devastated that they don't have anything
to give each other," Lewis said, noting that families often break up or
grow apart because they can't cope with a death
Relationships between children and parents also change.
"I went from being overprotective
(with her surviving children) to saying, 'What the heck, go ahead and
do it. Life is too short.'
...I built a wall because I didn't want to be hurt like that again.
In addition to the discussions, Parents of Murdered Children
help survivors find ways to
channel their feelings, such as the publication of prose and
poems by members in a recent newsletter.
"We do a lot of talking. It's therapeutic," said
Pam Ross, a Sunnyvale resident who joined
the group five years ago after the death of her daughter and is now
leader of the Peninnsula/South Bay Chapter. "I've met some wonderful, sensitive
people here....you can talk to (them) about things no one else can understand."
The group avoids taking up issues like the death penalty, where
members have differing
opinions and the discussion could become polarized.