Genelle Reilley is a longtime member -- her daughter Robbin, 23, died after being stabbed more than 40 times in a parking lot at Saddleback College on Jan. 18, 1986.
Graciela Lopez joined this year. On Jan. 6, her son, Michael, 21, was gunned down at a bar in Pomona.
They both belong to Justice for Homicide Victims Inc. and were brought together Sunday at Rose Hills Memorial Park, on the edge of Whittier, for an annual remembrance.
The goal was both to salve wounds that can never be entirely healed and to issue a clarion call: Speaker after speaker denounced politicians, the laws and the courts as too soft on crime.
You don't have to be family to a murder victim to belong or take part, but on this day, most of the 175 in attendance qualified most painfully.
Reilley wore a pin with a photo of her daughter, a student at the Mission Viejo college. Reilley told of how a man convicted for other murders was implicated in her daughter's killing but never tried. Whatever the truth, she and her husband, Jack, still await long-deferred justice.
"There's not a writer yet who can describe the feeling," Jack Reilley said. "The rage and the helplessness and the sense of loss and despair. Victims get a certain look on their face that we all recognize and know. And then you have to do something about it."
The Reilleys ultimately helped lead efforts for legislation that required better lighting in parking lots and for colleges to disclose information about crimes on campus.
On this muggy morning, they had many familiar friends to hug. And a few new ones. As a speaker noted, the number of slayings in this country every year is about four times the number of Americans killed to date in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rose Hills is home to a $500,000 multimedia memorial to homicide victims. Visitors sat facing the copper, granite and white marble rectangle that rises well over 10 feet above a lawn dotted with flat, small headstones. Two built-in video monitors display photographs and biographies of hundreds of victims. The initials of the locally based victims' rights organization, JHV, are set into side windows.
The day's designated heroes included local prosecutors and detectives who have put killers behind bars. The law enforcers were individually honored for convicting, among others, the acquaintance who killed a 61-year-old woman; the assailant who shot a 39-year-old security guard; the 13-year-old shooter of a 19-year-old college student, part of a gang initiation; and a self-styled "Hollywood godfather" who killed a youth called Rico, whose body was never claimed.
Mementos of the dead covered four blue tables near the monument.
The word "unsolved" was taped to the picture of Ashley Patrice Cheval, who died Aug. 25 at 23. On the picture of Ray Suarez was written, "killed by a gun at a party." At the base of one woman's portrait lay a broken plastic rose. The photo of a 2-year-old girl was fronted by toy blocks, with the letters A, B, C.
The featured speaker was Mark Lunsford, a 43-year-old truck driver turned activist. He choked with emotion as he described how his 9-year-old daughter was kidnapped two years ago from his Florida home, raped repeatedly, bound with wire in a closet, then buried alive in a plastic garbage bag.
He has led a state-by-state campaign to pass versions of "Jessica's Law," which, in California, bars convicted sex offenders from living near schools and parks and requires them to be tracked by global-positioning technology.
The crowd included a number of avowedly law-and-order Republicans who chastised Democrats. But Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also was criticized. Organization Director Marcella Leach noted that the governor has paroled more convicted killers than Gray Davis, his Democratic predecessor.
The activism of Mary Laurent-Barela is, for now, more personally focused. Her only son, Andre, 24, was gunned down Jan. 4, 2006, at a Pomona Arco station on the way to the movies. He was shot by a passenger in a blue Chevy Blazer. Moments before, the assailants had been tossed out of a strip club where they had discharged weapons, she said.
The shooting was caught on a surveillance camera and Laurent sent the blurry tape to a NASA scientist for enhancement. She has also raised $55,000 in reward money. Nothing has led to a suspect's arrest.
"I talk to the police every week about what's going on," she said. "To them, it's just another case. To me, it's my son's life. That's my purpose in life now."