Homicide Watch D.C.: Marking Death To Claim Life

Laura Norton Amico walk through an alley in Columbia Heights where a 17-year-old girl was found dead in a garbage container. (Washington Post)

I’ve been doing what I can to support Laura Amico Norton and her work as founder of the blog Homicide Watch D.C. Its mission: Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case. As Laura says, “Their deaths needs to be marked if we are living consciously in this city.”

She’s a 28-year-old former newspaper reporter whose web site chronicles every murder in Washington D.C. Laura supports her work out of her own pocket and is hoping to get grant funding.

Recently, BBC reporter Jane O’Brien met Laura at a Bloomingdale neighborhood prayer vigil for Billy Mitchell. Mitchell was murdered when he, allegedly, tried to intervene in a street altercation between a man and a woman. You can listen to O’Brien’s excellent interview with Laura on BBC Outlook (starts at minute 16).

“I think those people who don’t even get a funeral announcement are just as important as the ones who do get the coverage,” says Laura. “Who they were and how they died say as much about our city as the one’s who do get a news write up.”

By being online, the web site provides a place to form community for the family and friends of murder victims. It becomes a place of solace; a place that meets the need for the victim’s community to get concrete information about the legal aspects of the case and as a place to meet others who knew their loved one, but whom the family might not have met.

As one neighbor put it, “She’s putting a face on every victim who is murdered in DC.”

For more on read Can I Get A Witness?: Laura Amico’s DC Homicide Blog

Can I Get A Witness?: Laura Amico’s D.C. Homicide Blog

Laura Norton Amico walk through an alley in Columbia Heights where a 17-year-old girl was found dead in a garbage container. (Washington Post)

I was asked this weekend why I write so much about the dead. The combination of an earlier article on the bodies of 9/11 victims left in the Fresh Kill Landfill on Staten Island (At the Hour of Our Death), my book Who Killed Donte Manning?, and my recent column for Sojourners Rachel’s Wail for a Murdered Teen appeared to set a pattern.

While the answer could be complicated, it’s actually very simple. In Catholic teaching there are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One of the corporal works is to “bury the dead.” One of the spiritual works is to “pray for the living and the dead.” Through my writing, I’m trying to practice my faith.

Attending to the works of mercy can lead one into some strange places. Over the past few months I’ve been talking with Laura Amico who runs a blog called Homicide Watch DC. Today’s Washington Post ran a feature article on her work and included a short quote from me. See an excerpt below:

On the morning of Nov. 15, Laura Norton Amico found herself penned inside a scrum of journalists who had packed a room at D.C. Superior Court for a glimpse of the lead suspect in one of Washington’s highest-profile murder cases: the 2001 killing of federal intern Chandra Levy.

But while everyone around her was jockeying for the best view of Ingmar Guandique, the man who would later be convicted of Levy’s murder, Amico waited patiently for the clerk to call the unheralded case of Vernon McRae, a 22-year-old Southeast man charged with fatally wounding Michael Washington, 63, during an argument in October.

Amico, 29, a former police reporter from Santa Rosa, Calif., has quietly carved out a role for herself as the District’s most comprehensive chronicler of the unlawful taking of human life. Since October, she has documented her efforts on a blog called Homicide Watch D.C. Her mission sounds simple: “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” …

Rose Berger, 47, turned to Homicide Watch D.C. to follow the case of Ebony Franklin, a teenager whose body was found just before Christmas stuffed in a garbage can in an alley near Berger’s Columbia Heights home. A slaying leaves “a hole the community,” Berger said. And to be able to follow the case “allows for healing to happen.” Blogger Aims to Chronicle Every D.C. Homicide

Benedictine monastics have understood since the Middle Ages that in times of great social upheaval, economic distress, and environmental disasters that tear apart families and communties, the church can offer a very particular gift: stability. As Gerald Schlabach writes, “Precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age and churches than anything else in the Rule.”

When I came to the Columbia Heights neighborhood to join Sojourners intentional Christian community (as it existed then), I had no idea how long I would stay. Now, 25 years later, much of that original community has moved away. However,  new communities grows up in the shell of the old, discipled by the witness of those who experimented with the gospel before them. And the Christian work of honoring the dead carries on in an new way.