Those who lost young family members to violence find army of support at vigil

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  • | 12:00 p.m. October 14, 2014
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Angelina Williams had a life-altering revelation Monday night, nearly seven months after burying her 19-year-old son, Sean.

“I am not alone. I finally know that,” she said after a vigil at Terry Parker High School honoring her son and 19 other young people victimized by homicide over the past year. “Knowing that I’m not alone is going to help me deal with this, I’m sure.”

Glen Mitchell says that’s precisely why he and his wife, Margaret, started the annual Unity Plaza Candlelight Vigil and Remembrance 19 years ago.

Through the years, the vigils have honored 294 victims, with the new names read aloud each year.

“We are indeed a family brought together by a unique bond,” said Mitchell, whose 14-year-old son, Jeff, was gunned down outside Terry Parker High during a 1993 robbery attempt.

“Some of us might be close like brothers and sisters are, and some of us might be more like third cousins and not know each other so well,” he said. “But we all need each other.”

A landscape architect, Mitchell designed and helped raise funds to develop Terry Parker’s Unity Plaza, where victims’ names are chiseled into bricks and where 14 Bradford pear trees turn yellow and orange in the fall and bloom in the spring.

“It’s a circle-of-life theme, symbolically honoring young lives” tragically taken, Mitchell said.

Monday’s event also included a blessing of the children, hymns and Mitchell’s annual reading of a poem honoring his son and other victims of violent crimes.

The Mitchells started the Jeff Mitchell Foundation for disadvantaged and troubled youth with funds obtained in a settlement with the Duval County School Board.

The Mitchells sued for wrongful death in 1997, claiming the school district did not protect their son. Four teenagers ages 16 to 18 were convicted in Jeff Mitchell’s death.

In 1998, the Mitchells and other family members of homicide victims co-founded Compassionate Families, a nonprofit organization that assists with support, grief recovery assistance and life rebuilding schools.

Lawanda Taylor, whose 17-year-old son, Errin Brooks, was shot to death in April, said the ceremony put a smile on her son’s face.

“I think my son was smiling tonight; he’s definitely here in spirit,” Taylor of the slain Raines High School junior. “I know that he wouldn’t want me to be sad, so I’m not.”

Williams, who along with Taylor says she intends to attend the vigil annually, remembers her son as being a serious student with an odd laugh and dreams of being civil engineer.

A 2013 Mandarin High School graduate, Sean Williams was working full-time and attending Florida Community College at Jacksonville when he was

shot multiple times outside a South Barnes Road convenience store.

“It’s a sad thing that so many people here lost someone they love, but it is good to be with people who know how I feel,” she said.

No arrests have been made in Williams’ and Brooks’ cases.

After the ceremony, Ron Davis, father of slain Jacksonville teenager Jordan Davis, thanked the Mitchells for bringing the families of homicide victims together.

Jordan Davis was honored at the 2013 vigil; Michael Dunn was convicted of first-degree murder in the high-profile case Oct. 1.

“We got justice for Jordan, and we’re not going to stop until we get justice for everyone,” Davis said.

Also honored Monday were Lauren Nozomi Allen, Peyton Brooks. Kylieann Rose Burress, Ciara Nicole Floyd, Neolani Isabella Marmolejo, Christopher T. McDowell, Patrick LeShawn Mills, Savannah May Pfeiffer, Denise Asakay Rickman, Garrett Addison Schaub, Bilaal Kwame Shaw, Haley Nicole Smith, Frank “T.J.” Strickland, James Jeremiah Thomas, Kamilah La’Star Urita, Tyron “T.J.” Walker, Adrian A. Watkins Jr, and Melvin Bernard Woodard Jr.