By Fletcher Word
The Truth Editor
On Saturday, September 23, the Northwest Ohio Parents of Murdered Children gathered at the Toledo Spain Plaza at the corner of Collingwood Avenue and 23rd Street to observe a day of remembrance for their lost ones and to share those recollections with each other and the community at large.
Aviance Hill, the organizer of the event and the mother of Isaac Carpenter who was murdered just over one year ago, resurrected the Northwest Ohio Parents of Murdered Children chapter in February of this year.
Wendy and Leslie Robinson, parents of Dionious Robinson who was murdered in 2005 when he was just 20 years old, were among the parents there who shared their grief over their child’s murder and their disgruntlement with the way the justice system handled the crime. The murderer was sentenced to nine years incarceration.
“He was a good kid and it was totally meaningless,” said Wendy Robinson. “Nine years for taking a life – it is ridiculous. We need to all get involved and voice our opinions.”
Saturday’s event was held at the Toledo Spain Plaza which will be undergoing some major changes in the next few years and will also be named the “Peace & Healing Commons.”
Peace & Healing is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2021 in order to “address gun violence and the deaths of these kids,” said co-founder Thomas Douglas. The organization has a 30-year lease with the City of Toledo for the Toledo Spain Plaza and plans to invest about $2.5 million in converting the plaza into a space dedicated to its mission of addressing the gun violence issue. Such public gatherings are part of the planned mission.
Peace & Healing will be raising the funds through grants and donations. The group’s board consists of local prominent people such as former mayors Donna Owens and Mike Bell. The group began its mission by bringing together local gang leaders as part of the process to develop a plan to create a space that will be an “evolving environment for our at-risk and disadvantaged youth, a permanent location where victims of gang violence can go to find solace and hope, a gathering place for all citizens of Toledo, a common ground landmark that helps establish Toledo as a community of Peach and Healing and a place that further reinforces Toledo’s appreciation for the arts,” notes the group’s literature.
Saturday’s event was the first such connection between the plaza and the area parents suffering from such losses.
“Until you have lost a child yourself, you don’t know how much it hurts,” said Bonnie Breitigam as she spoke of her son who was killed seven years ago, at the age of 29, when he went to a Waffle House to bring home food for his family. He was a father of three.
“He was good to people,” said Breitigam. “Always would give. He was shot in the left temple.”
Breitigam emphasized the devastation that such crimes of violence cause to those left behind.
“The damage to the family … the fear and loss of trust,” she said. “We didn’t want pity but we wanted something.”
Breitigam has joined the Northwest Ohio Parents of Murdered Children and takes solace in sharing her grief with them.
“With the help of this group, I’ve gotten through some days; but it’s a club you don’t want to ever have to join.”
Shonda Striker lost her son, Demario Striker, when he was 23 years old, to a 15-year old gun-toting assailant who would eventually be arrested at the age of 21 and sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.
“I would like for him to be accountable for everything he put us through,” said Striker who was unhappy that she was not able to address the court or the murderer at sentencing. “I didn’t get a chance to say what I wanted to say.”
Also speaking at Saturday’s event were Joshua and Miara Carpenter, the brother and sister of Isaac Carpenter, Aviance Hill’s son.
Isaac Carpenter was killed by Miara’s boyfriend, the father of her child, when he tried to step in and protect his sister during a domestic dispute. The blame, the guilt, the recrimination has traumatized the family over the past 15 months since the incident.
“Isaac was the best of us,” said Joshua. “It happened to him but it also happened to me.”
“My brother was murdered protecting me from my son’s father,” said Miara Carpenter. “A person I cared about killed the person I loved in front of five people.”
Northwest Ohio Parents of Murdered Children will be holding such events on a regular basis in the future, particularly in the Toledo Spain Plaza/Peace & Healing Commons. This past Monday, September 25, was a National Day of Mourning organized by the national organization, Parents of Murdered Children. The national organization was founded in 1978 with the concept of honoring the memory of victims killed by violence and in order to acknowledge the resulting long-term trauma for families, communities and the nation.