Lorrain Taylor said she was aware of violent crime as she raised her children in the Bay Area.
But she ignored it until violence touched her family. Her twin sons, Albade and Obadiah, 22, were shot to death in February 2000 as they worked on Obadiah's stalled car in east Oakland.
Taylor tried to deal with the loss by becoming an activist against gun violence and accepting double the normal caseload at her job as a social worker. She struggled with depression, and within a year suffered an emotional breakdown, she said.
Eight years later, Taylor is still grieving.
"I used to think each year it would get easier," she said during the keynote speech Saturday at the Vigil of Hope in Modesto. "I think a lot of mothers out there know it doesn't get easier."
About 250 people attended the Vigil of Hope, which for 10 years has brought together people who have suffered personal tragedies because of violence.
The first vigil was held in 1999 following the murders of Yosemite sightseers Carole and Julie Sund of Eureka and family friend Silvina Pelosso of Argentina. It's hosted each year by the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, which assists families in missing-person cases and unsolved homicides.
In addition to leading the Oakland-based group 1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence, Taylor offers support to grieving families and sings gospel songs in prisons and schools.
She said the family members of homicide victims can do more than carry signs and share hugs. They can urge lawmakers to fund services such as professional therapy.
"For all of the mothers who need therapy, there should not be a six-month or a one-year limit," she said. "It has been eight years, and I still need therapy."
Saturday's 10th annual vigil started with a march in downtown Modesto, from the Stanislaus County Courthouse to the First United Methodist Church. People from throughout California and other states listened to speeches and browsed the information tables in the church social hall.
In the past 10 years, the Sund-Carrington foundation has offered $3.2 million in reward money in 461 cases in 47 states.
Francis Carrington, the father of Carole Sund and co-founder of the foundation, told the vigil audience that he empathized with those who are looking for missing family members or seeking justice for murdered loved ones.
"When it happens, you are dazed and you just don't know what to do," he said. "There is something you can do: Help others who are in the same condition and get the people off the streets who are doing these terrible, terrible crimes."
Sandra Lackey of Riverbank ran an information table for her missing friend, Deborah Hawk of Hanford. Hawk has been missing since June 12, 2006.
Hanford police suspect her ex-husband may be responsible for her disappearance but he hasn't been charged. An $80,000 reward is offered for an arrest and conviction.
Lackey, a former Hanford resident, said Hawk was her boss at Gottschalks and a close friend. Attending the vigil "gives us a lot of hope," she said. "There are a lot of families here who have waited longer than 21 months."
For Tina Montoya of Stockton, it has been eight years. Her daughter, Sophia Ulloa, was fatally stabbed in front of the family's home on Christmas Eve 2000. She left behind a daughter, Jasmine, now 12.
Montoya said she believes someone has information about her daughter's killer. "The police have questioned more than 200 people," she said. "Nobody wants to come forward."
Parents such as Montoya are awaiting justice as law enforcement budgets are stretched thin and state officials are focused on relieving pressure on crowded prisons.
Susan Levy of Modesto said none of the leading presidential candidates emphasizes law and order in their campaigns.
Her daughter, Chandra Levy, disappeared in Washington, D.C., in 2001 right after completing a federal Bureau of Prisons internship. Her remains were discovered in a remote area of a Washington park in May 2002. Police haven't made an arrest.
"The presidential candidates are talking about the violence in Iraq, but what about the assaults on people and the violent crime in this country?" Levy said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.