One grim fact unites the organization that meets every Thursday evening in Queens Borough Hall: they are all parents, or other close relatives, who have lost children through murder.
Last Thursday was a small meeting of the Queens chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, but as leader Larry Farrell explained, it was Passover and Easter, after all, and in these parts, Christians and Jews kind of gave each other a nod of respect. Farrell, a stocky man with long flowing gray hair, remembered going to a Seder evening at a Queens Lutheran Church more than once as a child.
That is a measure of Queens, the New York City borough that forms the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S., a place that locals say is so mixed and closely packed that mutual respect is the norm.
These Queens residents at their Parents of Murdered Children meeting needed more than that — they needed support, empathy, shoulders to cry on.
Said Farrell: “If we don’t talk about our children, it’s like they had no meaning on earth.”
Since his 21-year-old son, Lawrence, died three weeks after an assailant afflicted 26 murderous stab wounds on him in 1991, Farrell has commemorated him in different ways, including the naming of a star. He said ordinary people might find it silly, but he doesn’t. The other members nodded in understanding.
An attendance sheet was passed round the room and in the final column, each attending member wrote a fateful word about each murder case: “solved,” “solved,” “unsolved,” “solved,” “unsolved . . . “
In these words there was a whole world of pain and hurt. Some members said that seeing the murderer of their loved one behind bars and the case closed brings some satisfaction — until the murderer comes up for parole.
Others were fervently thankful that in New York State, relatives of murder victims are not required to meet face to face with the murderer at parole board hearings, as is the case in most other U.S. states.
But for the cold hand of murder reaching into their lives, it’s likely none of these people would have met each other. On this night, they greeted each other like the old friends that they have become.
“Where have you been?” Farrell asked a woman who arrived late, welcoming her with a hug and a kiss.
Almost before formal business was dealt with, the group had already started debating POMC’s structure. It’s a national group now, with many chapters across the U.S.
“Cincinnati, 1978,” said Farrell tersely, when asked where the first chapter was founded.
As quick as they were to debate and argue, the group members also lapsed into reminiscences about their lost ones, or angry complaints about the criminal justice system, which in some cases they say has failed them.
“My son was killed Dec. 3, 2001,” Lelia Hoskins said. “They still never found who did it.”
“Where did it happen?” asked Farrell.
“In the 105th precinct. Queens,” Hoskins replied.
“I call the detective, and he doesn’t be there, ” she continued.
“No leads, no nothing?” asked Carol Lee Brooks, who is chapter coordinator and the mother of a murdered son.
Hoskins said: “They tried to interview my other son but he said that he knew nothing about it.”
Another group member told his story. Frank O’Connor seemed worn down by the telling as he started.
“Been 16 years since my brother was killed,” O’Connor said of a death that’s one of the oldest and most controversial discussed by the Queens chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.
“They still haven’t questioned the guy who threw him out,” O’Connor continued.
So familiar were the cases to the members present that sometimes people like O’Connor leave out the details already known — in his case, it was his brother Christopher, who was found dead at the back of a Queens nightclub in mysterious circumstances after at least one altercation with bouncers, one of whom ejected him onto the street.
With Frank O’Connor was Michael Salem, Christopher’s employer at the time of his death and who has since become a passionate advocate of Parents of Murdered Children. Not being a relative of a victim is no barrier to membership. Salem has put up a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.
Coffee and kosher macaroons passed around the room as member after member decried their experience with court systems.
Farrell described the ordeal of appearing before parole board hearings. His son Lawrence died after three weeks on a life-support system.
“At the last parole board hearing, I had a photo of my son before the animal [who killed him] found him,” Farrell said slowly. “And then a photo of him after I got him back. And for that I had a morgue photo. That photo spoke a thousand words.”
Farrell explained that from his viewpoint and his wife Ruby’s viewpoint, parole hearings set out to seek evidence of rehabilitation in the criminal and less to take into account the ongoing suffering of the family of the victim.
Carol Lee Brooks, who had led the meeting confidently until she came to describe the case of her own murdered son, faltered a little.
“My son was murdered in August 1991,” she said. “His murderers were actually caught right away. I, I don’t even know what to call them sometimes, murderers, whatever. The [one who killed my son] had a long record. He’d been on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ three weeks before.”
The person who pulled the trigger and killed her son is behind bars for life. But he had an accomplice who was sentenced to a lesser sentence and who will be soon paroled. Brooks said that she and her family had decided not to be concerned about the second perpetrator’s probable parole.
Grief is not the only emotion that families of murder victims experience. There are also feelings of vengeance, and frustration at the legal system, which, in seeking to be impartial, cannot but upset people at times.
Farrell then reminded members of his idea to try to lobby for a special additional penalty for convicted murderers: that they be required to pay with their own money for the victim’s funeral.
As the meeting continued and the annual POMC vigil was planned for May 15, the group chatted away quite amiably, and at times it was easy to forget their sad purpose.
But the sadness returned, as it must do, for these parents and relatives who never expected to bury their children.
Brooks said: “We realize that if we were on the other side of the fence we’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh, isn’t that awful?’ and then turn the page of the newspaper. It’s only within this group people can share and sympathize and listen.”
Farrell summed it up much more simply, as he pulled on his coat at the meeting’s close.
“We’re all here to have a bad day,” he said.
Further information about Parents of Murdered Children can be found at www.pomc.com.