The Durham chapter of an organization geared towards helping families of homicide victims is closing, despite the city's rising rate of gun violence.
Officials in Durham and Raleigh believe "a number of things" are causing the violence, including an increased "fascination with weapons" and gang activity. Both cities have seen an increase in gun violence, with Durham having more than 30 homicides this year, about a 20% increase since 2018. Raleigh had more than 25 homicides this year, an increase from their 17 homicides last year.
After a homicide, the families of victims are left to pick up the pieces. For the past 22 years, the Durham chapter of Parents of Murdered Children has been providing resources to grieving families. Diane Jones leads the chapter with Mina Hampton. Jones joined in 1998 after her son David was murdered the year before.
"The organization, to me, pretty much saved my life because after my son was murdered, I didn't know how to process the grief. I didn't know what to do with this thing called murder," Jones said.
The local chapter was opened in 1993 by Nellie Taylor Jones, the co-owner of Ellis D. Jones & Sons Funeral Home. After working with many families of homicide victims, she decided to start an organization to help these families work through their grief.
The group met once a month on Tuesdays and provided resources for families. When Jones started leading the chapter, she trained to become a grief counselor.
"I stayed on because I wanted to help other mothers and families that were experiencing the same pain that I had gone through at the loss of my child," Jones said.
Police officers also came to these meetings and answered questions about how to navigate the criminal justice system and provide information on murder trials. Jesse Green, a Corporal in Durham Police Department's Homicide Unit, has been coming to these meetings for the past few months after recently joining the homicide unit.
"It also gives us motivation and a visible reason why we continue to do our job on a daily basis," Green said.
In the past 5-7 years, however, Jones says membership has been slowly declining. Without new members, she feels she's forced to close the chapter for now.
"With all that's going on in Durham, we haven't gotten a new family this year," Jones said.
She's not sure why people aren't seeking out her support group, but she thinks the culture of grief is changing. In fact, across the country, chapters of Parents of Murdered Children have been closing due to low membership, with a chapter in Dallas, TX also closing this year.
Christine Weeks has been coming to these meetings in Raleigh for the past few months. Her 18-year-old son, Joshua, died in February.
"[He was] a brilliant young man with incredible, incredible goals. An Eagle Scout who graduated from high school... with a great desire to help society," Weeks said.
Weeks said this group has helped her create a network of support quickly, but now that this group is closing, she isn't sure where she'll go for support.
"It's all a process," she said. "I am still navigating my loss, but this was a place that I could come and listen and collaborate with people who had experienced a similar loss."
Weeks hopes one day, there might be enough support to reopen the chapter. In the meantime, the National POMC organization provides online counseling and resources for families in grief.