The table is set, but those holding reservations will never take their seats. Nine of the most recent victims of violent crimes in the 14th Judicial Circuit were honored Tuesday during the "Missing Place at the Table" event at Panama City Mall.
"The whole reason to want to have the event was to celebrate the joy of their life and not let their good works and their sweet spirits be forgotten," said Charlotte Greathouse, who founded the memorial event eight years ago.
Mothers, daughters, sons and fathers were all represented – 89 victims in all since 2006 – with photographs and other memorabilia. Many of their family members joined representatives of the local law enforcement community to remember not how they died, but how they lived.
"It's a good time to focus on the joy and the happiness that we felt, and the joy and happiness that they brought into our lives," said Piper Williams. Her sister, Mia Brown, was kidnapped and murdered in December 2010.
Vernester and Wanda Pope attended the event to honor their grandson, Morrell "Bucky" Bellamy, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2011. "You could see that he had great things that were ahead of him," said the grandfather. "He never met strangers and he had a lot to give and share with people."
Places at the table were set for Sammie Hagans, a one year old boy who died at the hands of his babysitter, and 16 year old Jacob Hendershot who was murdered in Callaway in July 2011.
For founder Greathouse, it's personal. Her daughter, Kelli Bailey was murdered in Bay County in 2001. She said bringing victims' families together to share their grief helps the healing process. "I think it has been uplifting," she said. "Others might lend a sympathetic ear but they just can't truly understand what you're going through."
The "Missing Place at the Table" display will remain until Sunday, April 28, in the mall's center court.