MERCED — Longtime Mercedian and renowned victims' rights advocate Jacque MacDonald is packing her bags and moving to Grants Pass, Ore. a change she calls "bittersweet."
Merced has been her home since the early 1960s, with the town serving as the backdrop for devastating tragedy and personal triumph.
She first came to the area from England as the wife of a military man stationed at Castle Air Force Base. She returned when her daughter, Deborah Ann "Debi" Whitlock, was murdered in Modesto in 1988.
"Merced will always be close to my heart," MacDonald said. "My daughter is buried here. My dogs are buried here.
"I always promised my husband (Dennis) that we'd move somewhere with cleaner air when he retired.
"There are so many people that helped support me and what I was doing along the way. How can you ever thank them all?"
When leads for her daughter's killer dried up, MacDonald set out on a nine-year crusade to keep the murder fresh in people's minds and to try to bring her daughter's killer to justice. Her efforts paid dividends in 1997 when Modesto police received information that led to the arrest and conviction of Scott Avery Fizzel.
With justice served for her daughter, MacDonald turned her attention to other families that had suffered through similarly heinous crimes.
She became a victims' rights advocate and started the "Victim's Voice," a weekly television and radio program that highlighted other cold cases throughout the Central Valley and country, the criminal justice system and the impact of crimes on families. The radio program has run for the last 18 years.
Members of local law enforcement such as Merced Police Sgt. Scott Skinner say they admire MacDonald for her dedication to the plight of victims. "She's done so much to help people in this town and throughout the state," Skinner said. "She's opened a lot of doors for us as police officers, both with leads and as a liaison to other victims."
Law enforcement officials said the "Victim's Voice" has helped get the word out about unsolved crimes. "As long as new information keeps getting turned up and there are leads, there's hope some of these killers can still be brought to justice," Skinner said.
Hope is a big part of what MacDonald provides for victims. Her show and her activism help keep the victims and the unsolved crimes in the public eye years after the fact, but she also is an example that people can bounce back from tragedy.
"Just by meeting her and talking about their loved ones, Jacque helps these people grieve," Detective Joe Deliman said.
The two law enforcement officers were at the Radio Merced studios on Thursday to help MacDonald record her final show before the move. The good news for MacDonald and the people she's helped and those she may help in the future is that the show will continue from Oregon.
"We're just going to do it over the phone," KYOS engineer Steve Colvard said. "As long as Jacque wants to do the show, we're going to put it on.
"She's the most tenacious woman I've ever met, and she's used that to help a lot of people," Colvard added.
Despite a quick wit and a sharp tongue, MacDonald quickly shies from adulation or praise. All that matters to her is trying to find justice for the victims and their families. And she's quick to point out that none of that would be possible without a lot of help.
"You can't do it all by yourself," MacDonald said. "I can't say enough about what the local law enforcement has done for me.
"Without the support Sheriff (Mark) Pazin or (Merced County District Attorney) Larry Morse II or Sgt. Skinner and Detective Deliman always willing to come onto the show, we'd have never been able to accomplish what we have."
Everyone who has worked with MacDonald in some capacity counters that without her as a driving force, a lot of good work would never have been possible.
"It's an absolute god-send anytime Jacque is involved, because her eloquent and demure personality just bring down people's walls," Pazin said. "Working with and knowing her has been extraordinary."
Pazin added that MacDonald is "truly one in a million."
"After spending nine years trying to bring her daughter Debi's killer to justice and then succeeding, most people would be done," he said. "She just kept going, and went out and assisted others that have felt her pain and suffering. She kept pursuing the bad guys for those that no longer had a voice."
Even though it will now be from 454 miles away, MacDonald intends to keep doing just that.
Reporter Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.