'All the good things they brought to your life - hold those memories dear'

'All the good things they brought to your life - hold those memories dear'
The family of Dean Crosson, a young man who came to Portland from Canada to help the homeless and was stabbed to death at a transient camp, places a wreath in his honor at a ceremony to remember murdered victims. Crosson was killed in 2007. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter.

OREGON CITY, Ore. - Across the nation on Tuesday, those touched by the murder of a loved one paused to reflect and remember the people they have lost to violence.

Sept. 25 was a National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims and at Mountain View Cemetery in Oregon City it was also a day to mark something special.

In a corner of the cemetery that was once vacant, a memorial for murdered children is being built. It's the first such memorial in the Northwest and the eighth in the United States.

"The garden will create a permanent and visible memorial to the victims whose names will be placed here through the years amid (the other) memorials in this lovely, peaceful place," Oregon's former Attorney General, Hardy Myers, told a large crowd that had gathered to remember the victims and to see the progress on the memorial. "It's a place where family and loved ones can come to be closer to those they have lost."

Construction is well under way and the memorial is slated to be finished within a few months.

"This is wonderful - just wonderful," said Alta Ray. She was at the cemetery on Tuesday to remember Justin Little, who was killed in Paris, France at the age of 21.

Little, who was from Silverton, had gone to France by himself to see the sights. He never came home.

"There's going to be so much healing brought through this," Ray said. "Not only on special days like this, but any day of the year."

The memorial project, spearheaded by the Greater Portland Area Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, has been four years in the making. The names of children who have been killed will be inscribed on a wall that will also have a waterfall.

Darlene Myers' son, 22-year-old son Paul Whitcher, was stabbed to death in a tavern 18 years ago. She said the memorial is a way to keep his memory alive.

"The thing that I worried about most is that he would be forgotten at some point and that would break my heart," she said.

For others, it will give them a place to go to grieve, to heal and to try to find some kind of peace with what happened in their lives.

Wade McGilvra lost his girlfriend, 22-year-old Lori Jean Cunningham, in 1981 when a man opened fire inside the Oregon Museum Tavern in Salem.

McGilvra said Cunningham's parents had their daughter cremated and there is no grave site for him to visit. Even though he has been married for 27 years now and has raised a family, he said he has never forgotten Lori and what happened that night.

"It's been tough," he said. "It's been tough for 30 some years. There's not a day goes by that you don't think about them (someone you have lost to murder)."

And it's not just the loss that hurts, it's the manner in which they died that plays over and over in the minds of those who are left behind.

"It's how undignified their life was taken and the horror of what they went through before (they died)," said Mary Elledge, chapter leader of the Greater Portland Area Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. "It's not just that they were killed - it's everything. It's the fact that they were murdered - no one has the right to do that - and how they were murdered. And that stays with you."

Elledge's 21-year-old son, Rob, was brutally killed in 1986. He was bludgeoned to death and his body was found in a shallow grave near Estacada. Three men were later convicted of his murder.

The pain of losing a loved one to murder never goes away, even decades later. Steve Doell, President of Crime Victims United, lost his 12-year-old daughter to murder nearly 20 years ago and struggled at times to control his emotions while speaking at the remembrance ceremony at Mountain View Cemetery.

"This is a death, like it's been said before, like no other," Doell (pictured at right) said. "Another human being took our loved one's life in a brutal, senseless act that can never be understood or explained."

Doell called on those who have suffered devastating losses to remember the good that was brought into their lives.

"Remember the joy and happiness - the celebrations, anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, vacations and the special and private times that we had with our loved ones," he said. "All the good things they brought to your life - hold those memories dear. You love them, they love you and they are here with you today."

If you lost a child to murder and are interested in having their name inscribed on the memorial, contact the Parents of Murdered Children at (503) 656-8039. The memorial is open to those who live in Washington or Oregon and also recognizes those who died as the result of a DUII.