A community comes together

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 29, 2011

By Baileigh Rebowe


LAPLACE – In the wake of the recent trio of murders in Reserve, a candlelight vigil was held on the lawn of the Percy Hebert government building Friday evening in remembrance of murder victims and to urge anyone with information regarding the murders to contact the Sheriff Office immediately.

During the ceremony, attendees recounted past events and outlined steps to a new violence-free future.

Members of the community, parish officials, politicians, St. John Parish law enforcement and family members of murder victims rallied together at the vigil in an effort to stop crime and to start speaking up against it.

Andrea Anderson, aunt of Eliza Fleming who was killed in May, said she attended the ceremony to try and get answers to her many questions.

“My nephew had very close neighbors, very close. You are going to tell me no one saw anything? If not saw, no one heard anything? A gunshot? Anything? It’s hard for me to believe,” said Anderson.

Pastor Neil Bernard of New Wine Christian Fellowship Church in LaPlace said he thinks no one is coming forward because they are fearful of what may happen to them. He urged residents to break away from the fear and report violent activity.

“Should we have to be hostages in our home or in our own community?” he asked. “The violence has to stop. Silence is violence so let’s take our community back.”

The series of murders in Reserve, a double homicide in May and the recent slaying of Frank Lewis on the morning of June 17, all within blocks of each other, have ignited a spark in the members of the St. John community who feel “enough is enough.”

Eliza Eugene, Lewis’s sister, encouraged residents to start making an effort to talk to neighbors, to listen to those who may need a friend and to care for those around them. She said this is a way to not just stop the violence but also put an end to it forever.

She said the community has to start showing its heart.

“We have to challenge ourselves. It is time for us to come out of our comfort zone and hit the streets. There are hurting people who need us to hear their hearts and their cries,” said Eugene.

She said she recently put a pair of tennis shoes in her car in case someone needs her at a moment’s notice.

“I ask nobody to feel pity for me because I travel a road with purpose and passion,” she said.

Rita Johnson, mother of Morial Johnson, who was murdered in LaPlace in 2006, cried out to those in the audience to act now in order to save the young people of the parish. She said the victims are everyone’s family members and everyone in the parish is affected in some way by the murders.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said it is the duty of all residents to be involved in efforts to stop crime.

“We can run but we can’t hide from what is happening. It impacts all of us. It doesn’t matter where you live,” said Robottom.

Maj. Joseph Oubre, executive assistant to Sheriff Wayne Jones, reassured residents the Sheriff’s Office is working diligently on the cases but needs help from the public. He conveyed his sympathy to those who have lost loved ones.

As the ceremony drew to a close, brightly lit candles replaced the fading sunlight and voices singing in unison to “Amazing Grace” filled the air.

“It’s important following the vigil that we continue our efforts,” said Robottom. “There has to be plans and programs that show conflict doesn’t have to be settled with a gun.”