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Years After Sons' Murders, Mothers Still Traumatized 02:05
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They call themselves "surviving victims" of violence.

"I'm the mother of four children, two who were murdered," said Mari Adams, introducing herself.

One of Adams' children disappeared 20 years ago on the way to a dentist appointment. Her body was found three days later, decomposing in an empty building. A few years later, Adams' son was shot and killed outside his house.

Adams and her family established a $25,000 reward for information that could help solve her son's murder. But nothing came of it.

There's no manual for helping the family of a murder victim, but advocates say there should be.

"We know who murdered him," Adams said. "But for some reason, or lots of reasons, when you have a lot of money and power, you don't get justice. So this is very bitter."

So far this year, 32 people have been murdered in Boston. Typically, when a young person is killed, there's a lot of attention in the immediate aftermath, but rarely do we hear about what happens weeks or years later.

Adams, along with many others relatives of people killed in Boston, turned out at a City Council hearing on Wednesday to share her tales of suffering with public health officials. When murder touches a family, she and the others said, the scars can last a life time.

Most of the relatives who spoke at the hearing were women. Some, like Adams, have been grieving for decades, while others lost their children as recently as Memorial Day. But this was the first time the city brought them together to hear their side of things.

Many at the council hearing complained of insensitive police, insensitive nurses and insensitive teachers. That, they said, led to additional stress. Some went so far as say they and their families have post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Regardless to the life that he chose to live, compassion should have been shown to me and the tragedy that I had to deal with on the city of Boston streets."

LaDawn Hicks

LaDawn Hicks lost her son Tyrone in 2008.

"My son was the beginning of my world, the piece that shaped my world and now that he's gone, he was definitely the end of my world," Hicks said.

But Hicks says she and her family have had to suffer alone because of the way her son died. Police believed it was gang-related.

"I don't have that glamorous story where he's a victim or innocent bystander," Hicks said. "He was indeed the cause of his own death. But he was still murdered, and that means a lot."

Hicks said that no one called to offer help after Tyrone's death. And officials treated her and her family badly because her son was "known to police" before he died.

"But I, too, am an employee of the city of Boston, a homeowner in the city of Boston, my husband is an employee of the city of Boston," Hicks said. "So regardless to the life that he chose to live, compassion should have been shown to me and the tragedy that I had to deal with on the city of Boston streets."

There's no manual for helping the family of a murder victim, but advocates say there should be.

Tina Chery runs the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, named for her son who was killed 17 years ago. The institute is paid by the city to provide bereavement services to families.

But Chery says that's not enough. She thinks there should be a holistic system for responding to a murder. And it should start with a trained trauma counselor meeting with the family at the same time or before the police get there.

"You cannot have a detective notify a family that their child has been murdered (and) in the same breath subject the family to an interrogation."

Tina Chery

"You cannot have a detective notify a family that their child has been murdered (and) in the same breath subject the family to an interrogation," Chery said.

In recent years, Boston has been treating violence more and more like a public health problem. Case workers have been assigned to help families at the hospital where most trauma cases go, and the executive director of the Boston Public Health Comission, Barbara Ferrer, agrees that there's still a lot to do to improve the city and state's response.

One common request is for more money to help families pay funeral expenses. A young woman who only gave her name as "Rosie" said when her brother was killed a few years ago, she had to use her college savings to pay for his burial.

"We had to pick up every single penny we had and pay for all of those services," she said.

Rosie says she and her family are still paying for the funeral. Debt is just one of many scars these surviving victims want more people to recognize.

This program aired on August 12, 2010.

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