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Long Island

Families, friends gather in Miller Place to remember those lost to violent crime

A pin of Sarah Goode, who was murdered

A pin of Sarah Goode, who was murdered in 2014, is worn in remembrance. To mark the end of national crime victims week, families gathered in Miller Place, April 26, 2015, for a candlelight vigil to memorialize their loved ones.

Sarah Goode's family wore buttons Sunday with a photo of the beaming 21-year-old taken on her birthday, which she celebrated with her three older sisters.

Goode, stabbed to death on June 7, 2014, had waited for years to be old enough to go out with them, her sisters said. "It was the only night we all got to go out," said her sister Jennifer Driver, 34, of Medford.

The Goode family wasn't alone in their grief.

More than 100 family and friends of victims of fatal violence attended a candlelight vigil Sunday at the Miller Place Inn, squeezing hands, and sharing hugs and stories of looming parole hearings.

The event, organized by the Long Island/New York Metro Area chapter of Parents and Other Survivors of Murdered Victims, Outreach Inc., marked the end of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

Among those at the vigil was the family of Brendan Lawrence, 20, of Westbury -- shot and killed in Freeport six years ago -- still waiting for justice. There was the family of James Francis Connelly, 15, murdered in 1979.

Peter Gangi talked of the day in 1995 when he found his daughter, Elizabeth Gangi, dead in her North Bellmore home. Her husband was later convicted of her murder.

The group meets on the fourth Friday of the month at 7 p.m. at the North Shore Child and Guidance Center in Roslyn.

Family members read a list of 628 victims -- with a red rose passed out to each victim's closest family members. The list of those killed has been compiled by director Barbara Connelly since the group started meeting in 1981.

Connelly, of Shirley, had been searching for help dealing with her grief over losing her son Jimmy. Her other sons, 8 and 16 in 1979, wanted to kill the murder suspect. Her husband suffered a heart attack at the morgue and was unable to work. The loss of a family member to murder, she said, is different from other deaths.

"It's a personal attack. A car accident is an accident. Someone came up to your person to shoot him or hurt him or strangle him. It changes the whole dynamic of trying to understand death," said Connelly, 74.

Peter Gangi, 81, said the group was a resource for him and his wife, Gloria, when they needed one. "Longtime friends, when they see you, they have nothing to say. They shy away," he said.

Brendan Lawrence was killed in April 2009, part of an unsolved double homicide.

"I've never gotten up one day and not thought of him," said his mother, Rhona Lawrence, 57.

She said after her son's death, "I just wanted to die." But seeing others in the group who had also lost loved ones helped.

"They gave me strength," Lawrence said.

Wracked by grief, pain and anger, Sarah Goode's three sisters said they too didn't know where to turn in the aftermath.

Connelly came to one of the court hearings for murder suspect Dante Taylor, 19, of Mastic, whose next court date is in June. Since January, they have found comfort in the group.

"They're people who know what we're going through," said Jodie Dixon, 38 of Mastic, another of Goode's sisters.

Elizabeth DeMuria, 37 of West Islip, another sister, said the group helped her realize others had gone through similar pain. "You're not alone," she said.

Suffolk and Nassau police homicide detectives stood in the back of the room during the vigil, then mingled and ate lunch with the survivors. A 50/50 raffle and prizes were auctioned off to raise money for the nonprofit. The police quietly answered questions about old unsolved cases, and shook hands with family members whose cases they had solved.

Det. Captain John Azzata, commanding officer of the Nassau police department homicide squad, has been coming for seven years. He motioned to the detectives, "This is the reason these guys are here and do what they do."

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