Families struck by homicide find solace, support at Day of Remembrance

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

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Brenda Eyman walked hand-in-hand with her mother as they accepted a rose in memory of her sister, Janell Knight, one of three people fatally shot in July 2016 at a home in Woodland.

Monday’s Day of Remembrance ceremony for Clark County homicide victims was the first the family has attended since losing Knight. Eyman said her sister’s loss was still too fresh to attend last year’s gathering.

“It was comforting in a way to have so many people; you don’t feel so alone. They kept it simple and beautiful,” Eyman, 42, of Camas said.

More than 100 people attended the annual ceremony, held every September in connection with the National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims, at the Clark County Public Service Center.

Some people held back sobs during the reading of names as they came forward for a rose, others paused to embrace a victim advocate or thank them.

Knight’s name was one of 83 names read aloud this year.

Hearing other people’s stories, Eyman said, triggers the realization that “you are in this situation. You are in the process of healing.”

“My heart just aches, because you do have an understanding of what they’re going through,” she said.

Everyone deals with loss differently, victim advocate Amy Harlan told the crowd.

“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried,” Harlan quoted. She said she read the quote somewhere and it stuck.

“We cannot fix the unimaginable loss you have suffered,” she continued.

There will be hard days, Harlan said, where a song on the radio may bring back memories of a lost loved one, or a simple trip to the grocery store could end in tears.

Some people channel their grief into something positive.

Harlan highlighted a recent experience of Darla O’Brien’s, whose son, Cody O’Brien, was fatally shot in Vancouver’s Arnold Park in July. Darla O’Brien honored her son by going zip-lining earlier this summer, something her son always wanted to do but never got a chance.

Harlan also spoke about Robert Hampton, whose mother, Heather Young, was killed by his father in 2004, when he was 6 years old. Hampton, 19, now focuses his grief by helping others. He shared what he’s learned through his experiences with the crowd.

“I have seen a lot of good, and I have seen a lot of bad,” Hampton said of the nearly 20 years he’s lived in Clark County. “I can relate to each and every one of you, no matter what your age is and no matter how your story played out in losing your loved one. I, too, know what it feels like to lose a loved one to such tragedy.”

His mother left a toxic relationship with his father, he said, before he killed her. Although she was taken from Hampton at a young age, he said he has clear memories of her that he will forever cherish.

“I hope each and every one of you can always remember the good about your loved one being represented today and that you hold onto that,” he said.

As part of his healing process, Hampton said he chose to meet with his father in prison to form his own opinion. He said he had to decide if he would allow his tragedy to break him or make him a stronger person. He also gives back to the community that’s supported him — he regularly participates in the Shop With a Cop event and donates to the Clark County Domestic Violence Prosecution Center.

The healing process is long and difficult, Hampton told those in attendance, but through it, he’s been able to find some peace and believes others can find some, too.

There are days when he breaks down, asking himself, “Why me? Why did I deserve this?” he said, but then he remembers there are people supporting him.

“I understand that there will be days where it will be hard to get up in the morning. I understand that there will be days that are easier than others,” he said. “My heart goes out to each and every one of you.”

Eyman teared up as Hampton spoke. His words resonated with her and her family’s situation, she said.

They plan to attend next year’s ceremony. By then, the criminal case for her sister’s alleged killer, Brent Luyster — a known white supremacist — will hopefully be resolved. He is facing aggravated murder in the deaths of Knight, 43, Joseph Mark Lamar, 38, and Zachary David Thompson, 36, and attempted murder for allegedly critically wounding Breanne L.A. Leigh, then 31. He is scheduled for trial Oct. 30.

“It’s a good way to honor Janell and Zach and Joe, and just be support for other people who are here,” Eyman said.