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Imperial Avenue Families Cope With Grief Over Serial Murders

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 3:31 PM

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This past Sunday the Plain Dealer in a major spread chronicled the troubled and violent life of Anthony Sowell - the man accused of the worst serial murders in Cleveland's history. It doesn't explain how this tragedy could happen but does shed more light on the man who allegedly terrorized his Imperial Avenue neighborhood. That coverage got us wondering how some of the victims' families are bearing their grief at this point. Ideastream's Paul Cox has the story.

Cleveland’s Florence Bray lost a daughter on Imperial Avenue.  But the slaying of daughter Crystal Dozier took something else from Bray:

Bray:  “it can’t be a normal life anymore because it will never be normal anymore. It’ll never be.” 06 sec.

For Florence Bray, the families of ten other victims, and neighbors near the benighted home of Anthony Sowell, discovery of a local killing field was a shattering event.  Social worker Gerald Strom of Case Western Reserve University says some, even now, are just coming to grips with it.  The shock may be subdued, he said, but it’s still there:

Strom:  “People have initially an ability to take things in and to block them out.  So as they unfold, almost like layers of an onion, new thoughts, new ideas, old traumas begin to come back into their lives.”

Strom, speaking on 90.3’s “the sound of ideas” - says counselors can help sort all that out, but only if people seek help.

When the bodies were discovered, the city of Cleveland was ready with a response that began with offers of counseling for victim families and neighbors.  Community Relations Board director Blaine Griffin --also on yesterday’s call-in program—described the response. 

Griffin:  “when we first heard about these murders, we were among the first responders.  We have several pastors and lay people on our staff.  We worked closely with the Mt. Pleasant Ministerial Alliance.  The Mayor gave the community updates at the churches.  We did a vigil with Radio One at Luke Easter Park where we invited all the community out and we had a lot of young leaders.  We had representatives at all of the funerals. The Mayor and the chief actually met with the families and we had several community meetings with ministers, activists and other folks as well as myself.”

The Mayor also appointed a three-member commission to review the city’s methods for handling missing persons cases, methods that came under fire in the days immediately following Sowell’s arrest.  The commission expects to issue its report in March. 

Griffin says several women’s groups have formed since the killings for both commiseration and protection: 

Griffin:  “Even as late as this weekend at Zelma George recreation center we had a self-defense and personal protection class for at least 75 or more women that showed up at Zelma Washington George recreation center in the Mt. Pleasant area to do this.” 16 sec

Sherri Smith of the Mt. Pleasant Ministerial Alliance says her group is working to revive block clubs with the hope of getting neighbors to watch out for each other:

Smith:  “With an open eye we can make sure that we’re putting more eyes on the task, that there are more hands on the task of making sure that things like this don’t ever happen again.” 11 sec.

For those closest to the killings, like victim Crystal Dozier’s mother, Florence Bray, counseling is the best medicine:

Bray:  “Going to counseling, they let me vent, they let me cry, they let me be angry and they let me speak my mind.  And that’s where I got speaking my mind from.  I don’t hold nothing back.  I’m gonna speak my mind and I’m gonna say exactly what’s on my mind.  And that helps a lot.”

Mental health organizations working with the families and the neighbors say they’ll be available as long as they’re needed.  PC 90.3. 

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