For the children of homicide victims, the path to healing can be a long one.
One Kansas City-area woman has made it her mission to see that they don’t have to make that journey alone.
Monica Roberts calls her nonprofit, volunteer-driven effort Healing Pathway Victim Service Agency. Although it is in its infancy, she intends it to be a lasting influence in the lives of the most vulnerable survivors of society’s most vicious criminal acts.
“We don’t want to be a short-term presence in their lives,” she said. “We want them to know that someone out there cares.”
Few resources exist to help such children, according to those who deal with the aftermath of homicide in Kansas City.
Roberts wants Healing Pathway to fill the void — for free.
Whether it’s making a cake to celebrate a child’s birthday, providing diapers and clothing, or finding mentoring, educational and grief counseling support, the goal is to make sure children have access to whatever they need to help them heal.
Roberts, who lives in Lee’s Summit, witnessed the destructive effects of violent crime while growing up in Kansas City’s inner city. Through her career in social work, she has encountered families of murder victims struggling to cope with emotional and financial strains suddenly thrust upon them.
“Given the amount of homicides in Kansas City, we know that there are a multitude of children left behind,” said Roberts, who started Healing Pathway last year.
“I encountered so many families and would wonder what happens to the children. And I thought about the perpetrators and wondered what kind of intervention in their lives perhaps could have stopped them from being violent offenders.”
Children of homicide victims are a unique and particularly vulnerable group, said Toya Like, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s criminal justice and criminology department.
Studies have shown that children who have lost a primary caregiver to violence are at an increased risk to become criminals and be the victims of more violence, she said.
They tend to suffer from depression and low self-esteem and are dogged by the fear that violence can disrupt their daily lives. Some also develop the mindset that violence is a normal feature of life.
And in many cases, the fact that the killers were relatives or acquaintances worsens the loss and grief.
“That level of family disruption can certainly have a domino effect,” Like said.
Healthy Pathway board member Julie Gulledge saw that happen in her own family after her brother’s murder.
Counseling initially helped her nephew, who was 13 at the time. But when insurance ran out and he had to switch counselors, he “immediately went downhill” and began acting out violently and committing crimes, she said. It also affected his school work and he ended up dropping out, said Gulledge, who is a local chapter leader with Parents of Murdered Children.
“If it sticks it can be a huge asset to the community,” Gulledge said of Healthy Pathway.
She said services for affected children in the Kansas City area are needed desperately.
Currently, resources are “almost zilch,” she said.
And many people can’t afford what services exist, she said.
Even small children who have no conscious memory of witnessing a violent act in the home will retain some level of subconscious awareness than can lead to negative behavior when they are older.
“It’s really important to get to these kids for a lot of reasons,” Gulledge said. “They’re lost.”
Bridget Mitchell wants to make sure that doesn’t happen with three of those kids, who Healing Pathway has reached out to help.
They are her grandsons. Mitchell is raising them after they witnessed their mother’s killing at the hands of their father, who then took his own life.
The boys were 3, 2 and 1. They were sitting in the backseat of a car when the murder-suicide took place in the front seats March 13.
“There’s no book or website that tells you how to deal with something like this,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell had found therapy for the boys, but Healing Pathway is helping her obtain legal services to deal with guardianship issues.
She feels reassured that the group focuses on long-term help.
“I’m very excited about working with Monica and her team,” Mitchell said. “I’m glad to know they plan to stay with the family until the kids graduate.”
Kansas City Police Sgt. Kari Thompson, who joined the Healing Pathway board, sees the organization as filling a vital need.
Thompson said she has seen too many families suffering from what she calls “generational curses,” where violence and criminal behavior are recycled through multiple generations. She thinks Healing Pathway can help arrest that cycle.
“Hopefully we can help these children so they can grow up and have a fair chance,” she said.
Another Healing Pathway board member, Deputy Kansas City Police Chief Randall Hundley, said he wanted to help fill the void.
“Everybody thinks about an event for a day or two, or until after a funeral, and then everybody moves on,” he said. “But people’s lives are altered forever.”