Crime victims share testimonies during ceremony
April 12, 2011 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 11, 2011 at 11:12 p.m.
Felicia Neisser's life changed forever exactly one year, three months and 23 days ago.
That was the day she learned her only child, Rocky Wayne Neisser II, had been murdered.
"I reflect all the time. Every month, on the 21st, I always think about him," the mother said, as she talked about the difficulties of coping with her son's death. "As I count the months, I think I will never have him in my life again, at least not here on Earth."
After tearful, sleepless nights, Neisser credits prayer, friends, family and the help of local crime victims services for helping her make it through one of the most difficult times of her life.
Hoping to express her appreciation for victims' services that she received during her time of need, Neisser served as one of the guest speakers at this year's annual National Crime Victims' Rights Week ceremony.
The ceremony, held Tuesday evening at Parkway Baptist Church, honored victims and survivors of violent crimes while recognizing the support and services to those victims.
This year's theme was, "Reshaping the future, honoring the past."
The annual event is a collaborative effort of the Hope of South Texas, Mid-Coast Family Services, the Victoria Police Department, the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, Golden Crescent CASA and the Victoria County District Attorney's Office.
"Without the services of Crime Victims, I can think of no other resource that could have provided me the ability to stand up and take control of my life once again," Neisser said. "It goes without saying that those involved with Crime Victims walked with me every step of the way through my journey from tragedy to healing, and they will forever be a part of my life."
During the ceremony, Anthony Daniel , an investigator with the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, spoke about the meaning behind this year's theme.
"It means never forgetting impact crime. The families of more than 15,000 homicide victims in 2009, for example, feel anguish and struggles every day. It means remembering the more than 15 million children in this nation who live in households where domestic violence has occurred," said Daniel. "It means remembering how long our nation viewed domestic violence as a family matter rather than a crime."
Over the last decade, however, the criminal justice system has improved significantly, according to Daniel.
"Until the last decade, victims and their families were regularly excluded from courtrooms, received no notifications about court proceedings or perpetrators' whereabouts and had few rights to speak at sentencing," he said. "Rape victims had to pay for their own forensic examinations."
Neisser and Norma Garcia Sanchez, another mother who lost her son, spoke about the shock they endured having to simultaneously deal with the loss of their sons and being thrust into maneuvering through the criminal justice system.
"We didn't know about the criminal justice system. Everything happened so fast," said Sanchez, whose son Jason Rene Garcia was murdered in 2009.
Both mothers spoke about the assistance provided by law enforcement, counselors, as well as crime victim advocates including Sara Palacios, victim assistance coordinator for the Victoria County District Attorney's Office and Jennifer Kelley, crime victim liaison for the Victoria County Sheriff's Office.
"Every morning, I struggled to get out of bed. I wanted it to be a bad dream. I cried so many tears that my eyes were swollen," Neisser said. "While grieving, I was comforted in knowing that necessary paperwork, setting up counseling services, linking me to VINE, a service that provides court motion updates, would all be taken care of willingly by this phenomenal group of individuals. Crime Victims stood right beside me when dealing with the potential trial, plea bargain process and provided me advice as I crafted my Victim Impact Statement."
She added, "Surely, without their guidance, I would have continued to seek answers."
In the event of a crime, Palacios said victims need to be aware of all of their crime victim rights, but particularly the right to be informed, the right to be protected and the right to be heard.
"Our main goal is to educate the community about victim services should they know a victim of a violent crime," Palacios said.
Although having a loved one victimized is a traumatic experience, it is best to acknowledge the situation, Neisser said.
She said many people were afraid to approach her while she wanted them to know it was OK, as was the case with most who lost family members to violent crimes.
"It helps to know others care, even if you do not know what to say; even just a small pat on the back has helped me," she said.
Although Neisser said her family is now at peace over losing Rocky, the journey of moving on with their lives is continuous and not without its trials and tribulations.
Fortunately, it is not a journey the family has to travel alone.
"There is no map or guide book written for dealing with tragedy. Tragedy took me to a place that left me vulnerable and without direction," Neisser said. "Life sent tragedy my way. The silver-lining to the circumstances that forced me to become involved with Crime Victims is, without a doubt, meeting a group of individuals who will forever walk with me as friends providing direction. Sure, no map or guide book will ever exist but Crime Victims is an awesome source of hope to those who find themselves in need."