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Winnebago County hosts 17th annual homicide victims memorial

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MACHESNEY PARK (WREX) — Dozens of people like Samuel Johnson shuffled into Riverside Church's basement on Thursday as part of a family he never wanted to be a part of.

"I never wanted to be in this club, Johnson said. "On my way out here, I remember people who lost their kids talking about this club. It's not a good club."

Johnson considers December 20, 2020 to be the worst day of his life. He lost his son Bennie Johnson who was just 29 years old to violent crime, making this memorial difficult to attend.

"It was hard to come out here, I tell you that," Johnson said. "I didn't want to come because it's like I'm reliving the funeral again."

Johnson's family is one of dozens of families in the Stateline who feel that loss and pain every day. That's why Winnebago County started the Carol McFeggan Homicide Victim Memorial Service 17 years ago in an attempt to give people a space to heal and grieve. Brianna Smith, a victim advocate for the county says the vigil remains one of the few services dedicated to these families.

"They're aren't many services for our families of homicide," Smith said. "I don't think people understand that you're taking someone's life, and you're not only affecting this one person, you're affecting their family."

Even though none of the families wanted to lose a loved one, Johnson says seeing everyone at the service helps because they understand his and his family's pain like no one else can.

"It's hard for people to call you who never experienced it because they don't have the words, but the people who have experienced it have the words," Johnson said. "That made it easier."

The county also provides a family victim group counseling session every month that will now be returning to in-person.