As National Crime Victims’ Rights Week reaches its close, families of homicide victims will meet tonight at St. Paul Lutheran Church to honor their loved ones and others.
The meeting was organized by Joyce Tuhn, president of Victims of Violent Crimes of San Joaquin, and Leticia Galvan, the founder of Luis G. Alvarez Jr. Rewards For Justice, Inc., after a crime survivors rally that usually takes place each year at the State Capitol was canceled.
In past years, attendees gathered at Caesar Chavez Plaza in Sacramento before marching to the Capitol, many holding posters or photographs of loved ones lost to violence.
The annual event gives crime victims a chance to share their stories, heal and make change within their communities, Tuhn said.
However, after the rally and march were canceled without warning, local victims scrambled to fill that gap, Galvan said.
“My husband was calling to reserve table space for our foundation when we were told the march had been canceled,” she said.
Tuhn’s organization usually rents two buses to get people from San Joaquin County to the march.
“We had 92 people registered to go,” she said.
San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar helped Tuhn organize a 5k run in downtown Stockton to fill in for the Sacramento event.
But both Tuhn and Galvan wanted to organize an event in Lodi as well. The pair have been working to put the event at St. Paul Lutheran together for the past two weeks, Galvan said.
The two women grew to know one another after Galvan attended a support group meeting at Crosstown Community Church in Stockton, following the shooting death of her son Luis Alvarez Jr. in 2016. The group was led by Tuhn’s organization, Victims of Violent Crimes of San Joaquin, which she founded after her 15 year-old daughter Lacy Luke was hit by a juvenile drunk driver in the summer of 1999.
Their experiences with losing children to violence have united the two women.
The duo launched a support group for families of homicide victims in Lodi, for those who were unable to get to Stockton.
“We started the group in February. We meet at St. Paul’s on the first Thursday of the month and Crosstown Community Church in Stockton, the third Thursday of the month,” Galvan said.
For both women, the group has provided a much needed support network in the wake of tragedy.
After Galvan's sons case remained unsolved, with no suspects in custody for close to a year, Alvarez’s killer was finally caught and convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to nine years in prison.
In Lacy Luke’s death, the driver fled the scene before being caught by authorities. The driver, whose name was not released because he was a minor at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty to several felony offenses, including vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run driving. He was sentenced to serve his time at a reform boot camp in Arizona in August of 1999.
Tuhn said that despite the case being solved, she has never felt closure after losing her daughter. That motivated her to start her organization in 2002.
“It has been 20 years and I miss my daughter every day,” Tuhn said. “There is no such thing as closure. You don’t ever get closure when your child is a homicide victim, even after (the suspect is) found. It doesn’t change what happened.”
Galvan and Tuhn believe being able to discuss their loss with others who have been through similar trauma helps them cope.
“It gives you a place to talk through your emotions. It lets you have a place to cry and laugh and talk without someone telling you to move on,” Tuhn said. “We have all become a family that none wants to be a part of. We have different races and faiths and people we are a rainbow family brought together by one thing.”
The Lodi group is already serving as an outlet for the family of Marcelino Castellano, according to his daughter Andrea Schmidli.
Castellano, a Lodi resident, was killed in a hit-and-run in August 2017 while driving in the early morning hours on Interstate 5 south of Hood-Franklin Road. A 2001 Mercedes clipped the back of his car and it was pushed into the center median. The car rolled across three lanes of southbound I-5 before landing on its roof.
“My mom goes to the meetings because it helps her grieve for my dad. They were married for 49 years, and for her, it still really hurts,” Schmidli said. “She always tells me to go to because it has helped her learn to cope with it, but it’s still too raw for me.”
Though Schmidli still struggles with talking about the loss, her mother and sister find catharsis and learn new coping mechanisms at the meetings. It also gives them a place to talk about Castellano.
“Our mission for (tonight’s) meeting is to give people an opportunity to tell their stories to talk and listen. But more than anything it is about healing,” Tuhn said.
Tuhn and Galvan will be at tonight’s meeting to share their children’s stories. The event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 701 S. Pleasant Ave., Lodi.