Sunday marked the first day of National Crime Victims' Rights Week — a time to honor not only victims, but also the advocates who fight tirelessly for them.
The Kansas City chapter of Parents of Murdered Children marked the solemn occasion with its 29th annual vigil for homicide victims at the Kansas City, MIssouri, Police Department's East Patrol Division.
While family members and friends sat in chairs facing the front of the community room, one empty chair was placed before them.
"This chair represents our loved one, who should be here with us today," the chapter's co-leader Jennifer Miller said.
For Liz Donnelly, that loved one is her daughter, Jennifer Burton.
"The light went out of our world on May 11, 2005," Donnelly said.
Burton, a mother to two girls, was killed by her ex-husband.
"What we do know, for sure, is that he shot her three times with a shotgun," Donnelly said.
Monique Willis, another mother in attendance, can empathize with that feeling of extreme loss. Her son, Alonzo Thomas IV, was gunned down in April 2014.
"It has been five years this past Friday — five years," she said before being overcome with tears. "That just hit me."
Willis' emotions were shared by many in the room who continue to grieve the loss of a loved one and try to help others going through the same thing.
"It's something very gratifying to know that there are people like you that are willing to help each other and to comfort each other and provide advice and services," KCPD Sgt. Ben Caldwell said.
Donnelly isn't surprised.
"There's a bond," she said, "and people outside who haven't experienced this don't know the particular grief the families go through. But these people here do, and it's a big support to one another just to be together."
The event culminated with a photo slideshow of the lives lost to senseless violence.
"It was a lot of pictures, a lot of families, a lot of loved ones that are gone," Willis said.
Despite her grief, or perhaps because of it, Willis started Momma on a Mission , an organization that provides resources to the families of homicide victims.
Donnelly also has given back through the Rose Brooks Center. She still hopes something will change, so fewer families will see a loved one's picture at future vigils.
"I think we've got to find a better way to deal with each other rather than violence, and I hope that day will come soon," Donnelly said.