At least tragedy often leads to change, I thought as I listened Wednesday to one horrific story after another at a conference on violence.
In 1992, Diane Moylan-Cooke's 6-year-old niece was shot twice in the head by her father during a supervised visit. Following Ayla Rose Moylan's death, the Children's Law Center of
In 1994, Sam and Wanda Rieger's daughter Melanie was strangled and stuffed into a gym bag by her boyfriend – a man Sam Rieger only refers to as Inmate 23062. Two years later, her parents started the Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Conference Against Violence.
And in 2009, Alvin Notice's daughter Tiana was stabbed to death outside her home on Valentine's Day, allegedly by an ex-boyfriend she had a restraining order against. Notice has since successfully pushed for stronger domestic violence laws, including a global positioning system to track repeat offenders.
Progress, right? I asked Notice during a break. Absolutely, he agreed. Except – not enough.
It was a sentiment shared by many at the two-day conference at
. Earlier, Rieger told the more than 500 people in attendance that victims of violence still had too few rights. Just behind me, I could hear a woman who was attending the conference for the first time whisper: "Amen."
It's ridiculous, Rieger later told me, that victims are only eligible for a limited number of state-funded counseling sessions. That they are tortured with endless appeals and that their voices are muted while criminals are afforded every opportunity to plead their cases.
Each year the Riegers begin the conference with a video of Melanie, as a baby, a toddler with huge blue eyes, an ecstatic high school graduate. A 19-year-old who whose life was suddenly cut short. The video ends with a shot of her tombstone.
Too often, Rieger told the audience, victims of violence are reduced to crime and autopsy photos. "People lose sight that they were living, breathing people," he said.
Over the years, Rieger said, he's watched tragedies bring much-needed attention to some of the issues many at the conference are struggling with: victim services, criminal justice reform, stronger legislation against violence.
But too often, that attention only lasts so long: Victims withdraw into their grief. Friends and family move on with their lives. Media onto the next story.
He and countless other victims of violence don't have that luxury. What they do have, Rieger said, is a life altering tragedy that they can either allow to destroy them, or use to push for reforms in hopes of sparing another family their anguish.
Just two years after his daughter's death, Notice has clearly made his choice.
It's only been two weeks since the legislative session ended. But already Notice -- who is speaking at the conference Thursday – is lobbying legislators to upgrade the state's 911 system to make text messaging available during emergencies. The bill didn't go very far during the last session.
Notice said he hopes the bill will be named after Alice Morrin, an assignment editor for
. Morrin was shot to death by her estranged husband just three months after Notice's daughter was killed.
Police said Morrin spent the last moments of her life frantically sending text messages to a friend.