Day of Remembrance honors victims, comforts survivors

Day of Remembrance honors victims, comforts survivors

September 22, 2013
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Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter
Tom Tarr places sand-filled votives next to rocks bearing the names of victims in the Crime Victims Memorial Garden Sunday. Order a Print
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Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter
John Dryer, father of slain East Washington police officer David Dryer, watches Sunday’s observance with grandson Gerrit, 12; wife Jo Ann; and granddaughter Skyler, 10. Order a Print
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Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter
About 200 participated in the Day of Remembrance observance Sunday in the Crime Victims Memorial Garden. Order a Print
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Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter
Sand poured from votive candles commemorating nearly 100 crime victims symbolizes unity among their survivors. Order a Print
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Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter
Day of Remembrance participants check names on rocks in the Crime Victims Memorial Garden Sunday. Order a Print

John Dryer tried to dissuade his son, already a successful veterinarian, from a second career as a police officer.

“I begged David to not be a cop,” Dryer said, his bold voice belying grief and anger that have festered for nearly two years. “I thought something bad would happen, and it did.”

John David Dryer, 46, was on the East Washington force Dec. 18, 2011, when he and his partner/best friend, Bob Caldwell, were shot following a traffic stop near the junction of Interstates 70 and 79. Caldwell survived, but Dryer died early the next morning.

Sunday afternoon, the easy-going man named David was remembered and honored along with more than 100 other Washington County residents whose lives were prematurely taken. A Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims took place at the Crime Victims Memorial Garden near the Family Court Center in downtown Washington – within easy view of the county jail.

Nearly 200 attended the annual local observance, some wearing blue sweatshirts with white lettering reading, “Crime Victim’s Memorial Garden” on the back. It was held in conjunction with the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims instituted by Congress in 2007.

Each victim, whose family permits it, is memorialized with his or name inscribed on a river rock placed in the garden. There are about 100 there, said Betsy Dane, administrator of the Washington County District Attorney’s Crime Victim program.

Victims also were commemorated by a sand ceremony Sunday. There was a small votive glass filled with multicolored sand devoted to each, and as names were called one by one, either a family member or an event host poured about half of the sand into a tall vase, leaving the glass and remaining sand to be placed next to the appropriate rock.

This was the fifth anniversary of the water-fed garden, which was established by the district attorney’s Crime Victim/Witness Assistance program, Cathy Loos and Melinda Poland, who each lost a child to violence, started the garden.

Dane kicked off the program as the first of a half-dozen speakers. She established the tone of unity appropriately, telling the large audience seated in a semicircle: “Today is for you to be aware that your loved ones will not be forgotten and to know you are not alone.”

District Attorney Eugene Vittone, accompanied by daughter Laura, invoked a speech by Sen. Robert Kennedy shortly after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in April 1968 – two months before Kennedy likewise would be murdered.

Vittone’s response at the end was: “The senator’s message was that murder affects not only the family of loved ones, but each and every one of us. So while we remember those whose lives have been cut short by violence, let’s work to end violence in our community.”

Pam Tarr lost her son, Tommy, to violence. He was shot to death Jan. 8, 2006, just after his 24th birthday, by one of two men who had helped him move a truck that had broken down.

“He died immediately, and our lives changed immediately.”

She and her husband, Tom, handled much of the votive part of the observance. She called family members to pour sand into the vase or poured it herself; he placed votives near the rocks.

“Violence will never go away,” Pam Tarr said, “but memories will live forever.”

The unity theme was expressed numerous times Sunday. Loos, of Eighty Four, whose daughter Alexzandra was killed in August 2004, weeks from her 16th birthday, said the observance “does help us all, knowing you are not alone. I guess that is our motto. It does help knowing so many are there with you.

“It’s a club, but not a club I would wish on anyone.”

John Dryer agrees. He attended the Day of Remembrance with wife Jo Ann, daughter Beth Nijenhuis and his son’s children, Gerrit, 12, and Skyler, 10.

“He was such a good man,” Dryer said of David, who worked at Chestnut Veterinary Clinic in Washington. “He was a veterinarian, and a very good one I might add. But he wanted to help people and decided to be a cop. He died doing what he wanted to do.”

The father said in the 21 months since David’s passing, he has “found out how much David helped people. So many have come up and told me this.”

“He would take care of someone’s sick cat. The owner would say he couldn’t pay the bill right then and David said he’d send a bill. He’d never send the bill.

“He helped more people than he could have ever harmed. He had an incredible sense of fairness.”

As the program neared conclusion, audience members were asked whether they wanted to speak specifically about a lost family member. The elder Dryer was the last of several who did, and closed with a marvelous analogy.

“When you are sorrowful,” he said, “look into your hearts, and you’ll see you are weeping for someone who was a delight.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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