Group celebrates 25 years of victim advocacy | News, Sports, Jobs


News Photo by Julie Riddle Diane Sims, left, and Tasha Lockhart look at a keepsake album in the Sims’ Alpena home on Wednesday as standard poodle Jojo looks on.


ALPENA — As newspaper clippings emerged from photo albums in Diane Sims’ living room, stories poured in from two members of the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office Victim Services Unit.

Tragic headlines in news clippings – accidents, drownings, fires, infant deaths – chronicle the group’s history as this year marks 25 years of helping people in their darkest times in Alpena County and its surroundings.

Victim Advocates appear when someone needs help coping with the shocking grief of an unexpected loss or violence, helping victims and families through the numbness and disorientation that comes with unimaginable pain. .

The Sims and Victim Services Unit member Tasha Lockhart went through scrapbooks Wednesday detailing the group’s work over the past 25 years, recalling why they do what they do.

They sit next to the bereaved, explain what to do next and stay strong in the midst of the horror because the people they help don’t have that option, Sims said.

“They’re like, ‘Somebody please take control of this, because I can’t,'” Sims said. “So, you are that person.”

“IT COULD BE ANYTHING”

When Victim Services members receive a call from the police or a 911 dispatcher, whether in the middle of the night or in the middle of the grocery store, the advocates drop everything and walk away.

On stage, they may find a crumpled vehicle, a suicide, a child about to be removed from a respirator.

They can ward off stunned family members left standing around a body, neglected by officers focused on their work.

Advocates act as intermediaries between survivors and the police or medical examiner, guiding survivors through the myriad of next steps – who to say, who to call, what to do.

Over Easter weekend this year, Sims and Lockhart were called up for four consecutive deaths – one suicide by shooting, one suicide by hanging, one fatal accident, another hanging.

Lately, they’ve been reacting to too many self-inflicted deaths of young people — grieving and unable to look past the present — and old people tired of their loneliness and worried about being a burden on their caregivers, Sims said. .

Victim advocacy could mean running into a restaurant to pick up a stack of pizzas for exhausted firefighters at a structure fire or acting as traffic control to steer curious residents away from a crime scene.

Or, it could mean sitting with a speechless, grieving spouse or parent while firefighters or police search for a body.

“It could be anything,” Lockhart said. “I don’t think there’s anything we haven’t seen.”

‘YOU DO NOT SLEEP’

Fatal accidents and other unexpected deaths traumatize not only the victims, but everyone on the scene.

Victim advocates hold debriefs after the toughest calls, encouraging police, firefighters and medical responders to talk to each other, giving voice to the grief and horrific details their families don’t want to hear.

You can’t go home and tell your spouse and children about the body mutilated in an accident, Sims said.

You can’t describe walking into a room to see a teenager – maybe someone you know – hanging dead.

You can’t talk about the effects of the shotgun death or the cleanup that follows so the family doesn’t have to see it.

Your family doesn’t want to hear how you sat with a woman for hours, waiting for funeral home workers to arrive, while her husband lay under a sheet on the floor in front of you.

They don’t want to know what it’s like to help put a child in a body bag because the medical worker is devastated and can’t do it alone, or what it’s like to remove hair ribbons or the child’s clothes to give something to the parents. hang on.

The adrenaline and desperate eyes that turn to them for help keep victim advocates calm no matter what they see or the pain they encounter.

“On the way home, it hits you what you just did,” Sims said. “You come home, you scream, you scream. You certainly don’t fall asleep.

‘NEVER AGAIN’

Some calls they think about late at night, years later.

The 4-year-old wandered outside the vehicle he had been thrown from, unable to comprehend that his parents, grandmother and siblings had just been killed by a drunk driver.

The call to an out-of-state mother, telling her to buy a plane ticket home because her son had ended his life.

The sweltering trailer where a man lay dead of an overdose on the floor, a pot of meth still hot on the stove.

The cry of the young woman as she dropped to the ground in front of the policeman at her door.

“That’s the scream I never want to hear again,” Lockhart said, eyes lingering on a faded news headline.

“I WANT SOMEONE TO BE THERE”

Thank you cards are tacked among the clippings in The Sims scrapbooks, reminders of the people Defenders will never forget.

Sometimes, maybe at the grocery store, they see people they’ve been sitting with for hours next to a hospital bed or near a crashed vehicle or at a kitchen table.

These encounters bring heartache to both sides, the women said.

The job hurts, but defenders can’t let that pain turn them away because they know how badly people need it, Lockhart said.

If her husband, her children, were to deal with a devastating loss, “I want someone to be there to help them,” she said, her chin quivering.

Anyone can call 911, at any time, and seek help from a victim advocate, Sims said.

“All they have to do is call us,” she said. “And we will be there.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.



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