Two former sisters-in-law whose children were murdered are starting what they say is the first self-help group for families of murdered children in the San Fernando Valley.
"We're calling it Mothers of Murdered Children because it's usually the mothers who go to groups," Priscilla Renteria said this week. "But if fathers or children want to come, that's fine."
Renteria and Irene Avila were married to brothers whom they have since divorced.
Avila's daughter, Michele (Missy) Avila, 17, was drowned in 1985 in a shallow stream in remote Big Tujunga Canyon in Angeles National Forest. Two of her high school classmates, who had accused the petite teen-ager of having affairs with their boyfriends, are serving sentences of 15 years to life for the slaying.
Renteria's son, John Avila, 19, was shot to death in 1988 as he waited in his truck at a Mission Hills traffic light. The identity of his assailant remains unknown.
The women said they had tried other support groups outside the Valley but felt they needed a group in the Valley that dealt specifically with the loss of murdered children.
"A parent who has lost her child to illness--I cannot relate to that," Avila said as she sat in her Arleta living room with Renteria. "It's just like I cannot understand a mom who lost her child to a drunk driver.
"They lost their child to someone who didn't know what they were doing. In our cases the murders were deliberate. I think I could have accepted it more if I had lost my child by accident or if it had been done by somebody who did not know what they were doing."
Vicki Finesilver-Quinn, a clinical social worker at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank who runs a bereavement group for people who have lost spouses and parents, said that families of murdered people face special issues in grieving.
"Murder is an attack on our own safety, on all we take for granted," she said. "When we experience one, we become much more vulnerable. It's not only the sense that the murderer may still be out there, but the sense that anything could happen and I might be next.
"It's also different from losing someone to illness. When people lose someone to disease, they are mad at God or the person they lost. When they lose someone to a person who deliberately murders, the murderer has caused the loss and it did not have to be. I think the anger would be 10 times as great."
Finesilver-Quinn said she knows of no Valley groups specifically for mothers of murdered children, but there are other bereavement groups.
They include Compassionate Friends, for people who have lost children, which meets at the Encino Hospital in Encino and at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale. Another group, Aiding a Mother Experiencing Neonatal Death (AMEND), is aimed at assisting people who suffered losses during pregnancy or shortly after birth, and meets at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys.
Another group, Parents of Murdered Children and Others, meets in Los Angeles and Rancho Palos Verdes.
The Valley group held its first meeting this week and can be contacted at (818) 892-4684.