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Angel Families gather to honor loved ones lost to violence

Angel Families Unite members are silhouetted against the night sky as they let go balloons in memory of their friends and family members who died to homicide during the Annual National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims at the bandshell at Brandon Park Saturday evening. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

They didn’t want to be there, but they came to be with one another.

As a city resident is tried for homicide in the Lycoming County Court, members of the Williamsport community gathered in Brandon Park Saturday evening for a vigil on the National Day of Remembrance, a day designated to honor victims of homicide.

The vigil, hosted by “Angel Families Unite,” a support group for the families of those victims, brought together dozens of people at the Brandon Park amphitheater.

“It is beautiful we can stand in solidarity and navigate this trauma together,” said Bridget Irwin, the founder of Angel Families Unite. “I wish no new faces would come [each year].”

Rocks with the names of the victims on them sat on a table for families to claim, while a clothesline between two stakes held pictures of loved ones lost.

Meanwhile a scrapbook sat on a stand with photos of the departed.

As guests entered, volunteers presented them with candles and sunflowers.

Several guests stood up to share their stories as the sun sunk in the horizon. Donna and Rick Cole remembered back to the events of June 22, 2017, when their son, Scotty, was killed on the streets of Williamsport.

The two remarked their life was now divided by this landmark: Before Scotty was taken from them, and after.

“There’s sadly so many others who know our pain. We have this hole. It’ll never close until the day I close my eyes and I see his face,” Donna Cole said.

Nick Karlaza, of Mount Carmel, drove to Williamsport to share a very fresh story from July 4 of this year.

He recalled his last conversation with his father who was murdered.

“Nick, those clouds weigh something. They hold water,” Rich Karlaza had told him as they drove.

Later that night, Karlaza said his father was murdered, and his mother is currently incarcerated as the chief suspect.

“Sometimes, getting through the murder isn’t the hard thing. It’s the chaos afterward,” Karlaza said.

Karlaza criticized the way police and the courts dealt with the matter in the aftermath, and expressed his frustration with seeking justice for his father.

“No one’s struggle is above any other’s,” Karlaza said.

Several other individuals stood and shared their experiences before Irwin began lighting candles in a flame that spread around the audience.

Then, several people lined up in front of the group and read the names of local victims of homicide.

“We will remember you,” each reader said after they finished their grouping.

Angel Families Unite is an organization founded by Irwin three years ago. Irwin previously helped families of homicide victims in programs in Florida and Alabama, and when she returned home to Williamsport, she brought the group up north.

“We do memorials, but we are also trained to handle on-scene situations,” Irwin said, explaining she has helped break the news of the death of a loved one to families at fatal scenes.

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