Cass County honors victims of violent crime

Published 7:57 am Friday, April 12, 2019

CASSOPOLIS — The family and friends of victims of violent crimes in Cass County wiped tears from their eyes as they watched 102 ruby red carnations be placed at the base of a memorial stone outside of the Cass County Law and Courts Building in Cassopolis Thursday afternoon.

The Cass County’s Prosecutor’s Office hosted its annual flagpole ceremony in honor victims who lost their lives to crime in the county. The service, which takes place during Crime Victim’s Rights Week, invited the loved ones of victims to remember and honor those who died.

During the ceremony, the names of victims who have lost their lives to crime in the county were read aloud one-by-one as a carnation was placed at a gray stone which reads: “in memory of all the victims who lost their lives to crime in Cass County.”

This year, 102 names — starting from 1977 — were read by family members and law enforcement officials.

“Every year, we gather to remember crime victims — especially those who have lost their lives,” said Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz. “We are here to recognize those who lost their lives in a manner that was far too early and far too unjust.”

Thursday marked the 16th year that Fitz has hosted the ceremony. In those years, he said he has found that the flagpole ceremony is as much about honoring victims as it is about providing comfort to the families who have lost a loved one to crime.

“In a very real way, [families] become a part of the family in the prosecutor’s office,” Fitz said. ‘They are not just witnesses; they are our friends. We have gone through something very personal, and in a tragic way, we have shared things that few people ever will by bringing justice for victims. We have a kinship that few have, and I think it is good to renew that [each year at the ceremony].”

Though the flagpole ceremony and members may provide comfort and familiar faces to the families of victims and give them a way to remember their loved ones, it does not make the pain go away.

At least that is the case for Thelma Noecker, of Union, Michigan. In 2013, she lost her parents, Harold and Shirley Wise, to a car crash on U.S.12 in Edwardsburg. Though she said that she appreciates the flagpole ceremony each year, she still misses her parents every day.

“It’s been six years [on Wednesday], and it is not getting any easier,” she said. “Everything can make you think of them. It’s like every time you pick up a penny on the ground, you think of them.”

Though Fitz acknowledged that the flagpole ceremony could not bring loved ones back, he said that the service was the least the prosecutor’s office could do for families and victims. He added that he hopes the families of each of the 102 victims will find peace in knowing that the Cass County community remembers their loved ones.

“It is very difficult for survivors who have lost a loved one. It’s a very painful thing,” Fitz said. “It is incumbent on us in the criminal justice system to let friends and family know that their loved ones are not forgotten.”