Picture Courtesy of Columbia Fire Department

On December 1st, 2018, MADD SC hosted the annual State Candlelight Vigil for victims and survivors of impaired driving. The event was hosted at the SC State Museum in the Vista Room. MADD staff, volunteers, and first responders joined us to honor and remember victims.

Victim Services Specialists encouraged the family and friends of victims and survivors to bring pictures of their loved ones. The pictures were placed on a table at the front of the room, facing the audience where candles surrounded them. The newer “victim wall”, which was not available last year, was also displayed with pictures of many faces who have been affected by impaired driving. Staff from other MADD SC program areas, along with volunteers, assisted with welcoming friends and family. Guests were instructed to write the name of their loved one on a paper, heart-shaped ornament that would later be placed on the MADD lighted tree. Families also received a small worry stone as a memento.

Picture Courtesy of Columbia Fire Department

MADD SC’s Executive Director, Steven Burritt, initiated the memorial event. Kelly Stafford, Victim Services Specialist, thanked first responders in attendance for their work and dedication. The guest speaker for the event was PFC Thad Morgan, Target Zero Traffic Grant Officer for the Mount Pleasant Police Department. He shared his story of why he became a police officer and he also shared the loss of his best friend as a result of an impaired driver. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts and Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher both participated by reading short poems about loss. Kimberly Cockrell, Victim Services Specialist, started the victim/survivor ceremony by hanging a heart for her best friend Nancy Moore Thurmond who was killed 25 years ago. Victim families and survivors were called upon to place their loved one’s name on the tree and they were encouraged to briefly say something about their loved one or themselves as survivors. The tree began to fill up with ornaments meant to honor those no longer with us and survivors still here, while silently forming an invisible bond among all of the people who placed them there.

Picture Courtesy of Victoria Riser; picture of victim Jeremy Cockrell

Following the ceremony, many families shared stories and pictures of loved ones. For some of those in attendance it has been many years since the loss of their loved ones. Although they will always grieve, some are at a place where attempting to help others who have suffered a loss is very therapeutic. It has been almost 19 years for one of MADD SC’s Victim Services Volunteers, Paula Schaefer. However, the Thomas family of Summerville lost their son, Dylan, in August of this year. Paula has been supporting the Thomas family who are still trying to form some semblance of a “normal life.”

No matter the reason for attending, it was evident that everyone who came to honor a victim or survivor shares a common bond—one that was responsible for the deaths of 313 people on SC roadways in 2017.  No matter when or how you come to MADD, just know you will always have a place.