- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

Amy Robinson had known and trusted the man who abused and strangled her 13-month-old baby girl in 1999. For months, they would watch each others kids if one of them had to dash out to the store. She still believed in old-fashioned neighborly values. She hadnt realized how much the world had changed.
Yesterday, Ms. Robinson, 26, shared her grief with scores of other families whose loved ones had been murdered or killed by drunken drivers at the 12th annual Maryland Memorial Service for the Victims of Crime and their Families.
The gathering, held at the Father Rosensteel Knights of Columbus hall in Silver Spring, was sponsored by the Maryland State Board of Victim Services and the states attorneys offices of Baltimore, Kent and Montgomery counties.
A banner with the gatherings theme, "Their light will shine," was raised, and family members pinned to it paper stars on which they had written the names of their loved ones.
A list of the dead — more than 200 Montgomery County people, young and old — was read aloud.
Cyndi Haber, who had come with her mother and sister, shared the story of her brother, Brian Haber, who was killed outside a Prince Georges County bar on Halloween 1997.
Ms. Haber said her brother had gone to the bar to cheer up a neighbor whose wife was dying of lung cancer. As the two left the bar, a man hit Brian, 32, in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious. Days later, he died.
Ms. Haber attended yesterdays event as a way to make sure her brother is not forgotten.
"Youve got a bunch of brave people here," she said. "Youre with a group of people that can understand what youre going through. Youre with people that understand the lack of understanding."
Lillie M. Stringfellow of the District, whose 26-year-old son was killed by his cousin in 1996, said, "Its a pain that never goes away."
"But just having somebody there thats been there, believe it or not, helps," Mrs. Stringfellow said. "Can I go to my next-door neighbor and talk about this? How is she going to relate to me?"
Montgomery County States Attorney Douglas F. Gansler told the families they werent out there alone.
"Even though we dont know each other, we have a bond because of whats happened," Ms. Robinson said. There is a tattoo of Tweety Bird on her right arm. She had it put on there several months after the child died. She chose Tweety Bird because that was what her mother thought the baby looked like.
Under the tattoo is her daughters name, Amani, and the date of her birth and death.
Amani is "Swahili for peace," she said. "Shes at peace now, but I never thought it would be like that when I named her."
The gathering will help her face what lies ahead in a few weeks, when Amanis killer comes up for sentencing. Timothy Conrad Phillips, 31, was found guilty of second-degree murder on Dec. 15, and of child abuse leading to death. He faces up to 60 years in prison, 30 years for each count.
The sentencing will bring back all the pain, but it will also fortify the determination of police and prosecutors.
"Your strength and perseverance is our motivation," Mr. Gansler said in his speech to the families.
"I think its great to be included in this community," he said. "I think theres a lot of feeling that were in this together."
After the formal ceremony, the families were led into a side banquet room with tables and refreshments. Cameras were taken out. Those who knew each other from past ceremonies took pictures with their arms around each other. For the first time that day, you could see smiles. You could hear laughter.
If you could put a face on a worn, tired word — bonding — this is what it would look like.
Mr. Gansler didnt fade away, as politicians sometimes do once the ribbon has been cut. He mixed right in with those who had been hurt as badly as a person can.

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