‘ForeverStrong’ works on memorial for Kalamazoo shooting victims

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP/FOX 17) — Efforts are continuing for two memorials to honor those killed in a Kalamazoo shooting two years ago.

Uber driver Jason Dalton is accused of shooting multiple people at three locations in Kalamazoo County in February 2016. Richard and Tyler Smith, Mary Jo Nye, Mary Lou Nye, Barbara Hawthorne and Judy Brown were killed on the night of February 20, 2016 at two different locations. Tianna Carruthers and Abigail Kopf were also wounded.

The ForeverStrong Memorial Foundation plans to create a memorial to honor those killed in the shooting.

The memorial will consist of two separate projects, an up to $3 million Memorial Axis and a $7 million Memorial Soccer Center. The organization is still considering locations for the memorials.

The foundation is working to raise donations for the project and is also seeking individual and corporate investors.

The memorial will also honor five bicyclists who were killed and four injured by a pickup truck in June 2016.

The foundation held a roundtable discussion Tuesday, the 2nd anniversary of the shootings.  The group announced there would not be a vigil this year, but provided the memorials update and released statements from family members of those killed:

PERSONAL STATEMENT FROM LAURIE SMITH (WIFE OF RICHARD SMITH, MOTHER OF TYLER SMITH):

I can vividly remember how I felt the evening of February 20, 2016 as I realized that the horror I had been hearing about from local news outlets, in fact, involved my own husband and son. There is no way to describe the utter disbelief and denial, the endless punches to my soul and the level of pain that my heart still feels today. For my daughter and I and our entire family, grieving the loss of Rich and Tyler is not something that is over in a year or two; it is something that we wake up to every morning and will continue to face every day for the rest of our lives. Life does not go back to normal… ever. Dreams are shattered… forever. You aren’t the same person you used to be. You go through the motions of each day because you know you have to. You long to be "normal" and happy again. You find fleeting moments of joy when thinking back on good memories with your lost loved ones, but then end up crying because you realize those good times are gone.

I can tell you from the relationships that I have with the other victims’ families and survivors that this is true for most, if not all of them. It seems like just yesterday that, without any warning or our consent, our lives were forever changed. The pain and grief still takes our breath away. Tears start to flow, seemingly out of nowhere. The nightmare is a reality that we want to wake up from but never will. We won’t get over this and should give up on the concept that we will. This tragedy now makes up the pages of the book that is our lives. But there are chapters in that book that have given me hope. The community’s love and support, together with my family’s faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, have carried me through times where I felt like I couldn’t walk and has given me strength for the future. We can’t move on but we can move forward. There is a big difference between the two. Moving forward is making a conscious choice to live life after loss, deciding that you are here for a reason and still matter, and finding the strength to make small steps in the right direction to be the best you can be.

That is why I founded the ForeverStrong Memorial Foundation – to turn my family’s pain into something good that carries on the loving, caring, inspirational legacies of all of the beautiful souls that were lost and changed through mass tragedy in 2016. Through giving back to the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek communities who support us, we will move forward and turn something horrific into something very strong and positive. ForeverStrong – We Are Strong Together. God Bless you all.

PERSONAL STATEMENT FROM JEFF REYNOLDS (SON OF JUDY BROWN):

There exists a new normal now: one where my dear Mom, the person who has always been my greatest fan, supporter and friend, is suddenly gone. No chance to say goodbye. Not a day goes by where I don’t get the impulse to pick up the phone to share this or that with her. Then the reality hits all over again. The sadness over our own loss and for the horrific way Mom, such a peaceful gentle soul, faced her final moments, haunts us every hour of every day. There is no salve that can ease that pain. There are countless reminders of Mom: her compassion, generous heart, happy nature, wisdom. All these things have forever infused the lives of those who knew her. The memorial spaces in my home and in the garden are places to pause and reflect. We envision the ForeverStrong Memorial as a place for the community to remember and honor the victims and the exemplary lives they lived.

PERSONAL STATEMENT FROM ROB REYNOLDS (SON OF JUDY BROWN):

Not a day goes by that we don't think about my mother Judy Brown. I’ve installed a 25' flagpole in my front yard to fly the flag gifted to me by the Governor, and we are in the process of landscaping around it as a memorial. My fiancé Tracy never got to meet Mom, yet she has cried with me and grieves the loss of not knowing her and not having life experiences with her. From the beginning I have wanted to honor Mom's life and who she was to so many people. She is dearly missed by many.

PERSONAL STATEMENT FROM TRACY MARTIN (FIANCE OF ROB REYNOLDS):

While I've lost the opportunity to talk with Judy, in person, her spirit comes alive, for me, in the stories my fiancé has related. Her compassion for others was passed down to Rob, so was her dedication to living a helpful life. While I grieve the loss of a woman I will never have the opportunity to meet, I celebrate her life, with one of the two sons, she helped raise to be such a compassionate, kind and thoughtful human beings. His nature and demeanor speak volumes on who she was as both a mother and as a person, in her own right.

We say the more memorials we can create for our loved ones, the more ways for them to live on and maybe touch more lives.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

 

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