A new obit pro­ject seeks to give a more com­plete story about mur­der vic­tims

South Florida Times - - OBITUARIES - By As­so­ci­ated Press


PHILADEL­PHIA (AP) – It was a bloody day in Philadel­phia: five peo­ple shot or stabbed dead. One of the shoot­ing vic­tims was Trina Sin­gle­ton’s 24-year-old son, Dar­ryl.

In this city of 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple that tal­lied 269 homi­cides last year, Dar­ryl's death on Sept. 13, 2016, earned him a few lines near the end of a news­pa­per story, his loss over­shad­owed by the death of a 21-year-old cousin of rap star Meek Mill.

“He was to­tally over­looked,” Trina Sin­gle­ton said. “There were so many peo­ple shot that day, he was a num­ber.”

Now a new web­site is work­ing to show that Dar­ryl and vic­tims like him are more than statis­tics. Since the Philadel­phia Obit­u­ary Pro­ject went live in June, it has posted more than 30 in-depth obituaries of city homi­cide vic­tims from the past 18 months.

“We want to talk about the lives of the peo­ple, not their deaths. To dig­nify them. To hu­man­ize them,” said Cle­tus Ly­man, a city lawyer who has spent more than $10,000 to fund the pro­ject. “We want to com­plete the pic­ture and show the com­mu­nity that we're los­ing real peo­ple.”

Ly­man grew up in a small Penn­syl­va­nia town read­ing obituaries, ev­ery­one's obituaries, be­cause in a town that size, ev­ery cit­i­zen was con­sid­ered wor­thy of cov­er­age. As an adult, he found him­self frus­trated by the way the deaths, es­pe­cially of those who met vi­o­lent ends, were cov­ered.

Ly­man found Al­bert Stumm, a for­mer As­so­ci­ated Press editor who is now a free­lancer based in Spain, to man­age the site's con­tent.

“This is an un­apolo­get­i­cally pos­i­tive ef­fort be­cause there's a lot of vic­tim-blam­ing that goes around,'' Stumm said. “Yes, many vic­tims have got­ten into trou­ble be­fore they got killed. But how they got there is less im­por­tant to us than who they were.''

Obituaries are part of the rit­ual of griev­ing, said Frank Far­ley, an ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Philadel­phia's Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity.

“We memo­ri­al­ize be­cause we our­selves hope to be memo­ri­al­ized,'' Far­ley said.“For many, the fear of dis­ap­pear­ing from life with no no­ta­tion, noth­ing noted, is a very grim thing.''

With news­pa­pers hav­ing less space and fewer staff, it's more likely that homi­cide vic­tims won't re­ceive the due they had been given in years past, al­though griev­ing loved ones can al­ways pay to put a death no­tice in the news­pa­per. Typ­i­cally, news­pa­pers write ar­ti­cles about the deaths of only well-known lo­cals and other pub­lic fig­ures. When the Philadel­phia Obit­u­ary Pro­ject's re­porters be­gan con­tact­ing the fam­i­lies of homi­cide vic­tims last year, some were hes­i­tant. Then the ef­fort be­gan to get trac­tion.

The trib­ute to Dar­ryl Sin­gle­ton in the Philadel­phia Obit­u­ary Pro­ject notes he at­tended crime-scene in­ves­ti­ga­tion camp in Bal­ti­more one sum­mer and was tak­ing classes to be an emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian. It shares his pa­ter­nal grand­mother's re­mem­brance of the sum­mers he and his brother spent at her home in Ge­or­gia and the trips they made to lo­cal nurs­ing homes, where Dar­ryl would sing songs like “I Be­lieve I Can Fly.”

These good mem­o­ries, Trina Sin­gle­ton said, have helped the fam­ily mourn.

“We're talk­ing about what he ac­com­plished, so his life isn't summed up by some gun­shots,” she said.“That's im­por­tant for us as we go for­ward.”

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