The names of 885 homicide victims in Stanislaus County scrolled on a video screen at a candlelight vigil Thursday night. They went back more than half a century.
One name was fairly recent — Lauren London, whose body was found in southwest Ceres on the day in 2015 that she would have turned 25. Her mother, Denise Donnell, gathered her strength and stepped to the podium.
“Lauren had an infectious smile and laugh,” she told a few hundred people on the courthouse lawn. “You had no choice but to return her smile and to share her laughter. She also was a very empathetic and sensitive person.”
The District Attorney’s Office hosted the 21st annual vigil and decorating of two Christmas trees in the victims’ honor. The organizers said they were not sure just how far back the homicide cases went, but for the gathered survivors and supporters, the spirit of those they lost lived on.
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The event featured a few speakers and holiday and other songs. The audience heard about the long-term help provided by Jessica’s House, a grief support center in Turlock, and the DA’s victim services division.
“Our hope is that in some small way, you see that you are not alone,” District Attorney Birgit Fladager said. “There are many of us here for you and in support of you.”
Investigators have not solved the slaying of London, whose burned body was found in a field behind Central Valley High School in March 2015. She had her own daughter, Kennidee, who was almost 2 at the time.
Donnell told the vigil audience that it gets a little easier each year to celebrate Christmas amid the sorrow. She noted the help provided by Jessica’s House, which has programs for children and adults.
“It took a willingness and a deep desire to move beyond the agonizing pain of her death and the courage and determination to do whatever I needed to do to move to the other side of my grief,” Donnell said.
Erin Nelson, executive director of Jessica’s House, also spoke. She urged survivors of homicide victims “to seek hope, to envision possibilities, to welcome love as you remember them.”
Save Mart donated the trees that now bear ornaments in memory of the victims. They public can see them in the lobby of the DA’s office, 832 12th St., through the holiday season.