Philly DA secures $1 million grant for families of homicide victims

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"Once a family experiences a homicide, you can never take a family back to before that homicide occurred," says Movita Johnson Harrell, the supervisor of the district attorney's Office Victim Witness Services. (Tom MacDonald/ WHYY)

Philadelphia’s district attorney has taken heat from families of crime victims, who say the office has not kept them in the loop as cases develop. Now District Attorney Larry Krasner has secured a $1 million grant to provide counseling services to the families of homicide victims through a program dubbed Philadelphia CARES  — or Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors.

“Once a family experiences a homicide, you can never take a family back to before that homicide occurred,” said Movita Johnson Harrell, the supervisor of the district attorney’s Office Victim Witness Services. Harrell, who lost her 18-year-old son to homicide, said Philadelphia CARES is designed to offer special services to families torn apart by deadly violence.

“In most instances, families are unable to concentrate or read or make decisions effectively” in the aftermath of such a loss, she said. “And this team will become the brain for this family … assist with funeral arrangements, case management assessments, anything the family needs for the first 45 days after the homicide occurs.”

The dozen staffers in the program have all lost a family member to violence.

If she’s notifying a family when someone was killed, Rafiqa Sanders said, it will be easier getting that news from someone who lived through the same thing.

“This initiative that is going on in Philadelphia is so needed, because I should not have to walk alone in my journey, but I did. And it’s still hard for me to go through it,” she said. “I wish I had this program.”

Krasner said he’s excited about the program, which is billed as the first of its kind to offer safety net of services to the families of crime victims around the clock.

“It’s a big deal because no organization in the city currently provides a cooperative crisis response system and a comprehensive portfolio of services to crime victims,” he said. “It’s a big deal because, in my over 30 years, I have never seen a system like this in Philadelphia County.”

The program is expected to be up and running shortly after Labor Day.

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