A tough, hopeful tradition in Detroit: Remembering victims of violence

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Victims of violence in Detroit were prayed for, cried over, praised and remembered on Sunday by more than 100 people in an annual tradition at Church of the Messiah on the city's east side.

The Fallen Angels vigil is more than 10 years old. At one point during the ceremony, the names of 41 victims of lethal violence were read aloud. At times, the sound of tears and amens nearly drowned out the reading of the names.

Photos of some the people who have been killed by gun violence are displayed at a service for Fallen Angels at Church of the Messiah in Detroit on Sunday.

The name Francesca Marks, 30, was read by her mother. Sherri Scott. Marks was shot at Rouge Park in August when two men got into a fight over a basketball game, Scott said. Francesca was killed while trying to rush her children, nieces and nephews to safety. The murder is unsolved, Scott said. 

"This will be a hard holiday season, " Scott said. "She was the glue of our family."  Marks was a mother of seven, Scott said. 

The names of Paige Stalker and Christina Samuel also were read. The two were gunned down in separate Detroit shootings in December 2014.  Paige was a 16-year-old honors student.  Samuel, 22, was shot in a car on Christmas Eve, a college graduate planning to earn a master’s degree in criminology to become a probation officer. Both murders are unsolved. 

Church of the Messiah pastor, the Rev. Barry Randolph, said the ceremony is part remembrance, part therapy and part call to action.

"We just want families to know their loved ones are not forgotten," Randolph said. "They are not just statistics. They are remembered in the spirit of love."

Detroit's is the nation's most violent big city, according to F.B.I statistics. In 2018, the city's rate of 2,008 violent crimes per 100,000 people placed it highest among cities with more than 100,000 residents, followed by Memphis, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; and Baltimore.

Ray Winans, founder of DLIVE (Detroit Life Is Valuable Everyday) hugs Brenda Hill of Detroit during the service in Detroit. Hill's son was killed in 2009.

Ray Winans, a violence intervention specialist for DLIVE (Detroit Life Is Valuable Every Day) spoke about his life-long journey through Detroit violence.  At age 9, his father was murdered on the city's west side. At age 11, a cousin was murdered. At age 13, he witnessed a friend being killed.

He ended up in federal prison on a drug conviction. He said he got off the bus and his mom asked him to stop his life of crime. 

Winans said he accepted Christ. It was when he saw the news of the 2012 murder of a baby, Delric Miller III, that he decided he had to do something to help others avoid a life of violence. The 9-month-old boy was sleeping on the couch in his home when someone opened fire. He was killed by one of the nearly 40 bullets that went into the home.

Winans co-founded DLIVE with two friends and they counsel victims of violence.