MERCED — Merced resident Luis MacLachlan, 28, will never forget November 7, 1999.
That date means nothing to most people, but to the MacLachlan family, it was the day their lives were shattered.
MacLachlan's brother Phillip, who had just turned 14, was stabbed to death in Merced that day. "I feel like I'll never be the same because of what happened," MacLachlan said. "It ruined my brothers and sisters and mom."
MacLachlan joined dozens of other families who have lost loved ones to violent crime at the Victims' Rights Ceremony on Thursday. The families shared prayer, song and inspiration at Courthouse Park.
"I feel peace when I come here," MacLachlan said, wearing a T-shirt with his brother's picture on it.
The annual ceremony, sponsored by the Merced County district attorney and the Victim Witness Assistance Program, gives victims the opportunity to carry on the memory of their loved ones.
"We grieve with those here today as they bear a loss no one should have to endure," said Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II.
Livingston Police Chief Ruben Chavez shared his story about losing two cousins killed by a drug cartel in 1998. He spoke of family, forgiveness and faith, quoting from Scripture.
"Even through tragedies, God watches over us," Chavez said. "Let God handle the punishment. I'm sure it will be much worse than anything here on earth."
Los Banos resident Jim Chapman has been grappling with the killing of his parents since 2006. The case remains unsolved.
Lena Chapman, 81, and Bill Chapman, 91, were killed before someone set fire to their Bear Creek Drive home in Merced. On Thursday, their son found comfort by speaking with other victims' kin.
"You feel alone a lot of the time, and it helps knowing other people are in the same situation," he said. "You're part of this exclusive club that no one wants to be included in."
Chapman's sister, who died of an unrelated medical cause, asked that donations be made to "The Victim's Voice," a 30-minute television program dedicated to highlighting unsolved cases.
The show was started by Jacque MacDonald, who spoke at Thursday's ceremony. She used the show as one of many platforms to help capture her daughter's killer.
"I kept my daughter's face out there for nine years," MacDonald said. "No one's going to kill my kid and get away with it."
MacDonald's daughter, Debi Whitlock, 32, was killed inside her Modesto home while her 3-year-old daughter slept. Whitlock was robbed, raped and killed by an 18-year-old man who was high on methamphetamine, MacDonald said.
Now, MacDonald is determined to help others get their stories out to the public.
Maria Hernandez is hoping the public will help find her brother's killer.
Mario Alberto Zavala, 23, was stabbed to death while riding his bike on K Street in Merced. The family has attended the Victims' Rights Ceremony each year since his 2010 death.
"We don't want any families to go through this, not even our worst enemies," Hernandez said. "We just want our brother to have justice."
Thursday's ceremony, which brought together law enforcement leaders, elected officials and victims' families, was held during National Crime Victims' Rights Week, April 21-27.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.