Dept.'s Victims Assistance program helps families cope

By George Hunter

The Detroit News

DETROIT (AP) -- Douglas Broomfield admits he "shut down" after his 20-year-old son was murdered. Feeling nobody could understand his pain, he stayed home for weeks.

Finally, the 50-year-old automotive salesman ventured outside and attended a meeting of the Detroit Police Department's Victims Assistance Program, where he discovered he wasn't alone.

"It really helped to find other people who understood what I was going through," said Broomfield of Detroit, whose son Joshua was killed in March 2009 in what police said was a case of mistaken identity. "It was hard at first, sitting down and discussing the pain I was experiencing. Being a man, I didn't want to cry. But I learned how to come forward and express my feelings -- and how to get back into the world and deal with people."

Each year, social workers at the Victim's Assistance Program offer free counseling to between 500 and 600 people like Broomfield, who have lost loved ones to homicide. The program, which started in 1975 to counsel rape victims, expanded in 2005 to provide counseling, help with funeral costs and other services for relatives of homicide victims.

The program, which receives federal funding administered through the Michigan State Crime Victims Services Commission, provides group and individual counseling, and help with funeral costs.

If the crime occurred after Dec. 16, 2010, relatives of homicide victims can get up to $5,000 to defray funeral costs.

"If the murder was before that date, there's up to $2,500 available, but they would have to apply," Cooper-Reid said. "There are special circumstances where the money will be made available, but they would have call to see if they qualify."

The program's three victim advocates work closely with Detroit Police Homicide detectives, Cooper-Reid said.

"They get the case drafts that allow us to contact the next of kin," she said. "They also go out into the community, knocking on doors and leaving informational packets."

Often, as was the case with Broomfield, relatives of victims aren't immediately ready to take advantage of the services, Cooper-Reid said.

"Sometimes, they just want to be left alone," she said. "That's all part of the initial crisis they typically go through. Somewhere down the road, though, they usually contact us."

Denise Stoudamire, supervisor of the program's homicide unit, recently initiated a group geared toward adolescents whose relatives were murdered. The program, "Managing my Emotions," is geared for kids ages 14 to 17.

"I can't make the pain go away; nobody can," Stoudamire said. "They have to go through the pain before they can learn how to deal with life again. They're going to feel angry, but learning how to deal with that anger is key."

Thelma Johnson said her surviving son was enraged after his brother, 19-year-old Brian Johnson, was killed during an attempted carjacking in September 2009.

"The group has been very helpful," said Johnson, 57 of Detroit. "It helped me deal with the anger of my 24-year-old son. I didn't understand his anger, but now I realize it's a normal reaction. The program helped me, too; I was having trouble sleeping at night after it happened. But I've learned to cope."

Unlike Broomfield, Johnson attended the program immediately after her son's murder. "I needed that help right away," she said. "The day after it happened, (a victim advocate) called and asked if I wanted to come down, and I agreed. At first, I was in shock, and wasn't able to talk about what happened. But I've gotten stronger."

The men who killed Joshua Broomfield and Brian Johnson are still at large.

"I wonder what this young man was thinking after he killed my son," said Broomfield, who coaches youth football, soccer and baseball in his spare time. "Does he brag about it? Does he feel remorse? I don't understand why so many kids nowadays have no respect for life. They weren't born on another planet; they must have been normal kids at some point, but they somehow got distracted. Maybe it's the music they listen to, or TV programs. More families need to sit down with their kids and teach them the right way to live."

Johnson said the Victim's Assistance Program has helped her return to normalcy.

"I'll never get over my son's murder, but at least I can deal with life now," she said. "I didn't even know this program existed, but thank God I found it."

Published: Thu, Dec 29, 2011