I learned an important lesson last night. Actually, several of them.
First, I discovered a very special place in Delaware County. If you haven’t visited the Living Memorial Gardens in Upper Chichester, I highly recommend it. But be warned, the place packs an emotional wallop.
The Gardens were created by the Delco chapter of the Parents of Murdered Children to honor the memory of murder victims.
For me, the place holds a special place.
I was there last night for the annual National Day of Observance for Murder Victims. Before the ceremony, I got a tour of the gardens from one of the women most responsible for it, Barb DiMario. She is one of the co-founders of the group and was the driving force behind the Gardens. As we walked through and looked at each lovingly tended plot, I remembered name after name, and the stories that went along with them. Agonizing stories.
I had been asked to speak to the group by two of its current leaders, Sharon Conroy and Jane McPhee. Like every other member, they know all too well the unnatural act of burying a child.
But first I was moved to tears by Rose Bolton. Her son was killed in Philadelphia, and through tears she came last night to thank the group for allowing her son to be remembered in this very special place.
When it came to my turn to speak, I confronted the other lesson that I learned last night. It’s one thing to write about these tragedies. It’s another to live them.
Here’s what I said:
Good evening. My name is Phil Heron. I’m the editor of the Delaware County Daily Times and DelcoTimes.com.
In other words, I’m the man who supervised all those stories of incredible heartbreak that have brought us here together tonight.
My heartfelt thanks to Sharon Conroy and Jane McPhee for reaching out to me to speak here this evening.
It is truly my honor.
But I have a confession to make. I would rather be almost anywhere else. I am sure many of you feel the same way. It has often been written that Parents of Murdered Children is the one organization that no one wants to join. It is my fervent hope that they would not need to enlist a single new member. But I also know that is not going to happen.
There is not a day that goes by that I am not asked the following question: Why is there so much bad news in the Daily Times? The truth, as most of you are only all too aware, is pretty simple. That’s what people read.
It is my sincere wish that those stories did not add to the heartbreak. Likewise, I’m fairly certain that also is not the case.
But that job – as difficult and sometimes distasteful as it may appear, carries with it certain obligations.
First and foremost is to honor the victims. Not just in the days following these tragic acts, but in the future as well.
Very simply: Never forget.
That is one of the reasons I’m here tonight. And it’s also why I hosted Jane McPhee, Marilyn Dougherty and Steve Conroy last Wednesday night our the taping of our live-stream Internet broadcoast. We call that show “Live From the Newsroom.”
Ironically, that afternoon we had been reporting on a shooting on SEPTA’s Broad Street Subway. I told Steve that there is not one instance of an incident involving SEPTA that I don’t immediately think of his son Sean, and the ordeal that befell him on a SEPTA platform.
It would have been easy to simply relegate that story to another crime incident in Philadelphia. It was up to us to dig a little further, to find out that Sean was a product of Delaware County, where he grew up, and that his loss was resounding here.
Steve also related to me a couple of other sentiments I have heard untold numbers of times.
Like most of the people here, he doesn’t want his son Sean to be forgotten. And he also bristles when subsequent stories deal with the suspects charged in the attack. Their stories continue. He wants to make sure Sean’s plight is not lost in the shuffle.
We were joined last Wednesday night by D.A. Jack Whelan. The group told him that one of the things that bothers them most is the feeling of frustration that can overwhelm them in the belief that at times their wishes are not being represented in the process.
And so we gather here tonight, on the sixth annual National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, in a most special place.
It was back in 2001 that the Living Memorial Gardens were first unveiled.
I was struck by something we wrote back then. I think you have to be a member of this organization to truly understand it.
For that story, we talked to one of the founders of the Delaware County Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.
Barb DiMario wanted to stress the real purpose of the Gardens. Certainly it’s a way to honor the dead. But in a very special way. Barb noted that it was important for families to be able to do that outside the confines of a cemetery.
Cemeteries are about death, the end of a life. The Living Memorial Gardens are about life, and continuing to remember the lives and legacy of those lost.
There are 57 separate plots here in this beautiful place.
Representing 57 lives. There are not gravestones here. Only the beautiful testimony to lives taken far too soon.
I tried to get here a little early tonight so I could walk through the garden. It truly is a beautiful site.
But I must tell you I winced a bit as a looked intently at each name.
For me, most of those names are very familiar. For those gathered here tonight, they are much more than that.
That’s part of the reason we use our craft – words, pictures and video – to try to paint a little fuller picture of those remembered here.
Our initial stories tell the infamous five W’s of the journalism craft: Who, what, when, where and why? We get those from the police reports and interviews with investigators.
But those reports don’t tell you that Sean Conroy was incredibly proud to be a product of Delaware County and his job as a manager at a Center City Starbucks.
They don’t tell you that Jamie Hamler won a state championship while a member of the Chester Clippers high school basketball team in 1994.
That Madison Bierling was called “Our little lady bug” by loving family members or that she died just after her first birthday.
Those memories are recorded here, in this very special place.
And, I would like to hope, in the pages of the Delaware County Daily Times.
I wish I could tell you this group will never need to induct a new member. I wish I could tell you we will never have to knock on another door and inform griving family members that we are doing a story on their loved one’s death and would they be willing to talk to us about that person.
But I can assure you of this.
We will keep this very special place in our heart. We will keep the Living Memorial Gardens in our minds. We will keep alive the precious memories that those in attendance here tonight hold so dear.
We will never forget.