Cheryl Farrington was numb by the time she drove from her home in Grinnell and arrived at the University of Iowa hospital where her daughter Andrea was being treated the night of June 12, 2015.
Andrea Farrington, 20, had been shot three times in the back by Alexander Kozak at the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville earlier that evening.
Andrea Farrington died as a result of the gunshots and Kozak was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“When I first got the phone call, I pretty much collapsed down the wall. We didn’t even know what was going on at that point,” Cheryl said of herself, her daughter Cassie, and Andrea’s father, Dave. “You just think, ‘What am I supposed to be doing? How is this supposed to work?’ ”
There to help the grieving family through the process were victim advocates from the Survivors’ Program at Horizons, Cedar Rapids-based organization that offers, among other things, mental health and wellness services.
“They ... did anything they could to make it easier on us,” said Cheryl Farrington.
SUPPORT FOR SURVIVORS
The Survivors’ Program offers guidance and support for those who have lost family and friends to violent crimes.
On Saturday, Oct. 14, Horizons hosts a fundraiser to support the program. The event begins at 6 p.m. at the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. An auction follows a wine tasting with hors d’oeuvres. Farrington plans to speak at the event.
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The program, which serves 14 counties, began in 1991 with one victim advocate who worked from a laptop in her home, said BJ Franklin, program coordinator, who helped the Farringtons after Andrea’s death. Victim advocates work with friends and family to walk them through the processes of grief and criminal trials.
“It really was started because there weren’t any services for homicide victims,” Franklin said. “It was ... seeing it wasn’t just the person who was murdered that was the victim, the family and friends of that person were victimized by the homicide. We get involved during the investigation, stay involved through the prosecution and then we’re involved post-sentencing.”
In the last year, the program has been expanded to help all those affected by violent crimes. This year alone, 26 cases have been opened, including 12 in Linn County.
PROCESSING THE GRIEF
Franklin said those who have been impacted by violent crimes are usually open to working with Survivors’ advocates.
“We take it a little bit at a time, asking, ‘What’s the biggest need right now?’ ” Franklin said. “We say, ‘This is going to override any coping skills you’ve already developed because you’ve gone beyond what anyone expects to deal with.’ Most people would never deal with this. They’re in denial, they might be angry. Most often there is a sense of, ‘This isn’t really happening.’ It’s taking them through that process.”
Victim advocates also help those they serve answer media questions, help them apply for grants to cover funeral expenses, refer them to counseling resources, explain court processes and accompany the family to any meetings related to a trial.
“They don’t even know where to start,” Franklin said. “Most of the survivors that we deal with have never been in a courtroom prior. All of those pieces are just unknowns for them.”
Farrington said three advocates sat with her family and their friends all through the criminal trial in Story County, explaining the processes and providing gift baskets filled with pain relievers, tissues, snacks and stress balls. The blue stress balls got so much use, Farrington had torn one in half during court proceedings.
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Franklin said Eastern Iowans should keep the program in mind, especially after the recent deaths of two teenagers in Cedar Rapids.
“We always tell people this is a club you never wanted to be a part of,” she said. “Even if you personally aren’t victimized, you’re still impacted by people who are victimized. Everybody in this community has been impacted at some level in regard to the loss of an 18-year-old.”
Farrington said Survivors’ Program advocates still follow-up with her and encourage her to attend the victims support group, which meets the second Tuesday of every month in Cedar Rapids.
“The support from them was incredible,” Farrington said. “They don’t just drop you. I don’t know how we would have gotten through that without them, honestly.”
If you go
What: Survivors’ Program Wine Gala and Auction
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: The African American Museum of Iowa, 55 12th St. SE
Cost: Free to the public. No tickets are required. Auction proceeds benefit the program, which is a service of Horizons.