Nicole “Niki” Haynes’ murder on February 15, 1995, is still unsolved.
By Kim Garner
I have always had a particular interest in the criminal justice field with a passion to help the victims involved in major crimes.
During my studies for my Forensic Science degree, I realized that I would not be a good candidate for crime scene investigation, as I tend to let my emotions get the better of me. I have so much respect for those in the CSI field. It takes a very strong person to do the jobs they do! After graduation, I decided to finish my Bachelor degree in Sociology. One of the challenges within the criminal justice field is trying to understand why and how certain crimes are committed. In order to understand why crimes are committed, we have to understand the people who commit them and also the victims involved. Currently I am taking a class called Victimology. This class offers a first-hand look at what victims of crime must go through within our legal system. We get to see how the state compensation systems for victims work and how as a society, we need to work towards focusing more on the victim than the criminal.
As part of our curriculum, we were required to write a paper to cover the many ways victims are impacted by specific crimes. Of the different crimes to study, I chose to research homicide. The victims involved with homicide are different than any other crime because they are no longer here. Most people tend to believe that the only victims of homicide are those who lose their lives.
We generally do not associate victimization of homicide to those closest to the person who lost their life. There are many secondary or surviving victims who include family members, friends or anyone else who was close to the primary victim. Survivors of homicide are victimized in that not only did they lose someone at the hands of another, but typically in a very horrific way. For my research, I wanted to get real life stories. I didn’t want to just copy information from a textbook. For someone to truly understand how big of an impact this crime can have on a surviving victim, they must put themselves directly in the center of the issue, and that’s exactly what I did.
Hearing a mother talk about her only son being killed because he was mistaken for someone else, or how a young man has to deal with the reality that he will never be able to tell his mother he loves her again has been more powerful than any book could have ever offered me.
A major section of my paper had to cover how the media and social media can impact the victims of homicide. For this section, I went straight to Facebook. Facebook is the number one social media website around and I knew I would be able to get help just by posting a few questions. I am currently a member of several groups following a death penalty case right now, so this is where I started. This page is full of very passionate people and I wasn’t prepared for the huge response I received. I also found many other group pages to gather resources. A few were Remembering Homicide Victims and Newtown Action Alliance. People from all over the country were offering to tell me their most personal and most heart wrenching stories I’ve ever heard. They explained to me how the media turned their lives upside down, and how social media had helped them grieve by finding others they could relate to on these pages.
I spoke to a lady from the Newtown Action Alliance page who had told me her son was in the school and was shot at but thankfully not injured when Adam Lanza went on his shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut. She explained to me they have an entire school full of victims and that they have been inundated by the media, even now.
These survivors did not tell me how their loved ones died, but how they lived, and how they touched others’ lives. They also told me about the severe lack of resources offered for homicide victims and the survivors. For instance, in Texas where I am from, the State Crime Victims Compensation fund will provide $4,500 for burial expenses. In Michigan, it’s $5,000 on or after December 16, 2010 and prior to that date $2,000. The average funeral in the United States is anywhere from $7000-$10000! This is just a small part of the hefty financial responsibilities incurred by the family of a homicide victim. How can we possibly put a price on a person’s life? How can a family be compensated for a crime such as homicide? This area is something that needs a tremendous amount of work and it also needs more attention. The people that I spoke with who had lost a loved one to homicide each told me the same thing when I asked if they had been offered any assistance from the state. Their answers were a unanimous ‘No’. This is something they would have had to have taken upon themselves to find.
Our society needs to get to a place where the victims of crime are the number one priority. The offenders, the accused, the suspects get too much attention and typically the victims are put into a category of blame. We begin to question how something could happen to someone. Did they do something to have the crime committed upon them? Sometimes there are circumstances in which a person happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, however, that never is a valid reason for them to become a victim. We need to get to a place where we support and help our victims and I feel that God has helped me realize my true calling by taking this class.
I’ve always known that I want to help people, and who is more deserving than crime victims?! They’ve had everything taken from them and just want someone to help. My goal is to eventually become a Crime Victims Advocate or Victims Coordinator. I would love to work directly with the criminal District Attorney’s office to make sure that I can be part of a system that is geared to do the right thing for our victims. I also want to help get the word out there to as many people as I can. The more people that know how victims are treated, the more that can be done to make changes.
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” – Aristotle Onassis.
Kim Gardner is a senior at West Texas A&M University studying Sociology. She also holds a Forensic Science Associate of Science degree. She is dedicated to helping victims impacted by crimes.
This was printed in the April 7, 2013 – April 20, 2013 Edition