Help­ing homi­cide vic­tims’ fam­i­lies

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - NI­COLE SANTA CRUZ ni­cole.san­tacruz@la­times.com

It’s been nearly 20 years since LaWanda Hawkins got the call that would change her life: Her 19-year-old son, Regi­nald, had been found shot to death off Har­bor Boule­vard in San Pe­dro.

Within the year, she and other par­ents founded Jus­tice for Mur­dered Chil­dren, a non­profit that ad­vo­cates for fam­i­lies of homi­cide vic­tims.

Since then, the San Pe­dro woman has been to can­dle­light vig­ils, marched around the city, helped pass leg­is­la­tion to aid crime vic­tims and taken phone calls in the mid­dle of the night from those go­ing through the pain she knows so well.

Hawkins works out of a small, one-room of­fice near the Port of Los An­ge­les painted with brightly colored rain­bows and but­ter­flies. (A brother of a homi­cide vic­tim had been act­ing up in school, so she let him paint the of­fice, Hawkins said.)

Pho­tos of the dead adorn the walls. There’s a man in a grad­u­a­tion cap, a girl with bar­rettes in her hair. There’s also a new ad­di­tion: a photo of El­iza Delacruz, the 3week-old Long Beach baby who was kid­napped and killed in Jan­uary.

“I will never for­get that,” Hawkins said of the killing.

When Hawkins saw the news re­ports of the child found in an Im­pe­rial Beach dump­ster, she felt she needed to help. She went down to Long Beach and to the neigh­bor­hood where she thought the fam­ily lived. She ran into the child’s grand­mother, who was grief-stricken.

Hawkins told her she’d be back. She got into touch with the Long Beach Po­lice Depart­ment and printed re­ward fliers in English and in Span­ish. Two days later, she or­ga­nized a vigil and walked door-to-door with the child’s grand­mother to ask for help in solv­ing the case.

The mission for her or­ga­ni­za­tion is sim­ple. She hopes the group can help pre­vent homi­cide and also push for sur­vivors to be treated with dig­nity and re­spect, es­pe­cially by law en­force­ment.

She re­called a mother telling her that she was scolded for ask­ing a de­tec­tive too many ques­tions about her son’s death.

“They have the right to ask as many ques­tions as they want to,” she said at her of­fice, her voice raised and her hands in the air.

LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green, who has known Hawkins for about a decade, said she has helped build bridges be­tween law en­force­ment and vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.

“She’s a fa­cil­i­ta­tor,” he said. “She’s an in­cred­i­bly com­pas­sion­ate, lov­ing woman.”

Hawkins said that de­tec­tives change jobs or re­tire, and fam­i­lies need help nav­i­gat­ing the of­ten-con­fus­ing ju­di­cial sys­tem. The public, she said, needs a public aware­ness cam­paign for homi­cide.

“We need to be hon­est with this crime called mur­der,” she said.

Next week, Hawkins, her mother and other mem­bers of the or­ga­ni­za­tion will travel to Wash­ing­ton to be hon­ored by U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. It’s not the first time Hawkins or the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been rec­og­nized.

“That means we’re get­ting the word out,” she said. “That means some­one’s lis­ten­ing.”

L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Kathy Cady, who works with the Vic­tim-Wit­ness As­sis­tance Pro­gram, helped write the nom­i­na­tion for Hawkins. Cady said that even af­ter Hawkins’ sis­ter was slain in Ari­zona in 2011, she still showed up for an event about a month later to honor crime vic­tims and sur­vivors of those who have been killed with a smile on her face and a pos­i­tive de­meanor.

“She is a woman of ac­tion and re­ally an in­spi­ra­tion, es­pe­cially in light of all the tragedy she’s had in her life,” Cady said.

This year, Hawkins’ only son would have been 39.

She won­ders if he would have had chil­dren, and what he would be like.

The loss haunts her — as loss haunts ev­ery­one she has helped over the last two decades.

“I’ve never met any­one in this club who didn’t want to get out,” she said. “We don’t want mem­bers.”

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

LaWANDA HAWKINS of San Pe­dro co-founded Jus­tice for Mur­dered Chil­dren af­ter her son was shot to death nearly 20 years ago. Among her deeds has been help­ing to pass leg­is­la­tion to aid crime vic­tims.

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