Local News

Tuesday, Apr 08 2014 08:44 PM

March downtown celebrates crime victims' rights

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Friends and loved ones of victims killed by crime march down Chester Avenue from the Liberty Bell to St. Francis Church as part of the second annual Victims' Rights March.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Hannah Benge's mother, Jada, was killed by a drunk driver in 2004.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    At the Victims' Rights March held at the Liberty Bell in downtown Bakersfield, Mary Silva holds a sign remembering her son, David Silva, who died while being arrested by Kern County law enforcement in 2013.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Marilyn Perry, sister of murder victim Jimmie Perry, bows her head in prayer at the Victims' Rights March.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Faith Mozeke-Heath speaks to those in attendance at the Victims' Rights March held at the Liberty Bell. Heath's infant daughter, LayJah, was killed earlier this year in a crash involving an alleged drunken driver.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green was one of the speakers at the second annual Victim's Rights March in downtown Bakersfield on April 8, 2014.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Darrell Wilkins holds a picture of his sister, Charla Wilkins, killed by a driver in 2012 who was allegedly texting while driving.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Those at the second annual Victims' Rights March listened to speakers at the Liberty Bell before marching to St. Francis Church for a candlelight vigil.

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

As Danielle Gonzales, 29, looked around Truxtun Avenue at the grieving families Tuesday evening, she felt a sense of support.

"It's very nice to be among strangers who have been through it, and I don't know them, yet they understand it," Gonzales said.

Gonzales, of Bakersfield, said her 36-year-old sister, Yvette Pena, died Nov. 8, 2011, after being tortured and murdered. The man accused in Pena's death remains in jail awaiting trial.

An estimated 400 people gathered outside by the Liberty Bell to honor loved ones who had been killed as part of the second annual Victims' Rights March.

They waved signs with pictures of the deceased and their dates of birth and death. They marched from the courthouse to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on H Street while passing cars honked in support.

The gathering celebrated the Victims of Crime Act which recognizes the rights of victims. Every year, one week in April is National Crime Victims' Rights Week. The theme this year is "Restoring the Balance of Justice."

Jim Rupp, 72, still awaits that justice for his husband's death. Rupp's partner, Terrence "Tyke" Tsitakis, 54, was found strangled to death Sept. 20, 2013.

"He was strangled inside our own home," Rupp said.

Tsitakis' watches and rings were missing after his death. Rupp thinks it could have been a robbery, and he still has many unanswered questions.

Tammy Eason, 56, had been friends with Tsitakis for five years and called him a loving and kind man. She was impressed by the support the families gave each other Tuesday.

"Look at all these people who care. People who support us," Eason said.

Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green spoke at the gathering. She said she hoped the deputies and police officers in attendance showed that officials do care about finding the killers in those cases that remain unsolved.

"We, those that have not been touched by violence, stand here today and support you," Green said.

Some of the people in attendance had family members killed in accidents.

Louise Wilkins, 48, held a sign with a photo of her 20-year-old daughter, Charla Wilkins.

"It's important to know that we're here for each other," said Wilkins, who has a tattoo of her daughter's face on her arm.

Wilkins carried a sign against texting while driving. That was believed to have been a factor in the crash that killed her daughter April 14, 2012.

Alice Miller held a sign with a photo of her son, Anthony Saldana, 21, who died in a hit-and-run accident Feb. 10, 2013.

"I think (the victims' march) is important for us to support each other in this," Miller, 42, said. "We have not forgotten our loved ones."

Following the march a candlelight vigil was led by Monsignor Craig Harrison inside St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

He urged people to find strength, hope and peace to honor those who had died.

Nellie Martinez spoke at the vigil about her experience; her 4-year-old daughter, Jessica, was kidnapped and murdered in 1990.

If still alive, Jessica would turn 28 years old this month. Martinez reminded the parents, friends and loved ones in the room to remember there is help for them and to keep hope.

"Look around and see," Martinez said to the crowded church. "As alone as you feel -- you are not alone."

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