Grieving families find comfort in 'Victims of Crime Vigil'

“This is a club that no one wants to join,” said Douglas Chatham, whose daughter was murdered in 2011.

Strangers filled an auditorium Thursday evening with one thing in common: They all have lost loved ones to crime in Gwinnett County.

Eyes swollen with tears and chests baring pictures and words of hope, families watched a slideshow, picturing the lives taken in homicides -- toddlers, friends, moms.

They were all honored at the annual Victims of Crime Vigil, hosted by the District Attorney's Office Victim Witness Program.

“What we try and do is bring folks in, so we can not only remind ourselves about the need for victim services but also have people have some time to remember their loved ones that they've lost,” said Danny Porter, Gwinnett County District Attorney.

In its 18th year, the vigil actually had to move locations from the Justice Center to Free Chapel to accommodate the hundreds of people in attendance.

“Every day it's like it just happened,” said Dennis Clarke, whose son was killed by a drunk driver. “It hurts.” And the hurt is only exaggerated around the holidays; no matter how many years since the homicide.

Jennifer Bolling has honored her brother Doug Gissendaner since the origin of the county's vigil.

Gissendaner was notoriously murdered in 1997 – a crime orchestrated by his wife, Kelly.

“It's really hard because Doug's birthday would have been Dec. 14, so this is definitely hard,” said Bolling. “But this is kind of the way we do this. I'm here to honor him, remember him.”

This was the Clarke family's first time attending the vigil. Their heartache is fresh, after their 24-year-old son was hit and killed by a drunk driver several months ago.

But whether the grief is new or lingering, many families agree there is an intangible connection between them that is comforting.

“Everybody's pain is different but we're meeting people going through the same [thing], we come together,” said Jennifer Clarke.