Living after death: Families of homicide victims in Memphis

One way to get along with the grief: A picture of his dead son Prentice hangs on the wall of Stevie Moore's office.

By Paul Bartmuss and Jodie Dowell

When Denise Miller received a phone call 13 years ago 4 a.m. from the police to identify the body of a young man in the Binghamton area she only expected the worse. Once at the crime scene, Miller didn’t have to see the face of the young man laid out covered in blood to know it was her only son Chris.

“When I got to the crime scene I knew he was dead even before I walk up to the body because I could see his lucky boxers,” Miller said. “He told me was going to wear them that day and he never let nothing touch his lucky boxers.”

Shawna Miller, Chris’ older sister, said she is still upset about the night her brother was killed. “The night that Chris died I was supposed to have been at the complex with him, but he told me not to come. That’s why it still hurts. It’s a pain that will never go away.”


Miller isn’t alone in Memphis. In 2016 Memphis police reported 228 homicides in Memphis and another 44 in the first 14 weeks of 2017. Victims’ advocacy groups in Memphis are working overtime to meet the needs of families left behind in the wake of the recent crime spike.

Joyce Johnson stands in front of East High School in Memphis. Her son Chris attended school there.

The victims leave behind surviving family members who are trying to find answers and cope with the loss of their loved ones. Many families have candlelight vigils in memory of their lost loved ones and hope for the violence to stop.

Crime in Memphis is one of the top news coverages in Memphis but there is little coverage of the victims’ families.

James McCutcheon, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Memphis, said Memphis has a bad reputation, but the issues Memphis has are seen in other larger urban hubs across the country.

“I think we take a level of pride in the crime here in Memphis. It’s the first thing that comes on news every time unlike other cities I’ve lived in,” McCutcheon said. “I think it’s something about the culture in this city that attracts people to wanting to when it comes to crime.”

A recent news coverage on wmcactionnews5 showed that many of the 2016 victims’ families are still looking for answers to the killings of their loved ones.  They are not alone, victims’ families from previous years have to deal with the unknown as well.

Sharon Martin, 56 of Memphis, lost her oldest son 19 years ago when he was killed at his apartment complex. His case is still unsolved.


The family and friends of the victims not only have to deal with the loss of someone they loved, but also with the loss of self-control, financial help from the victim, and the loss of other family members. Some of the impact from losing a love one may even lead to drug and alcohol abuse.

Memphis has groups for families of crime victims such as the Crime Victim Center, which is funded through the Tennessee government and Victims to Victory, a non-profit organization for the homicide victims’ families. These groups provide services to the family like counseling and group services.

“If you are a family member of victim of crime you will deal with things such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression similar which is symptoms to people coming home from war,” McCutcheon said. “A lot of family victims are not included in such things like counseling which can help, but it’s not there in funding and it’s not just in Memphis.”

Locals who have dealt with the loss of a loved one from crime also have advocacy groups for the people of the community to come. F.F.U.N (“Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives”) is a economic social base for youth and young adults. The founder of the program, Stevie Moore, thought of the group in the 1981 while in jail, but it all came more clear after his son’s death.

“The day after my son Prentice Moore was killed, I knew I couldn’t bring my son back but I knew it was away I could save someone else child,” Moore said. “Because I always say the children are our gift from God and we need to teach and protect them.”

Moore’s group is founded and sponsored by the Shelby County Crime Center. These advocacy groups all come together for the community and help one another celebrate the memory of their lost loved ones.

Even with the help of others, advocacy groups and counseling its still hard to fully move on and recovery after losing someone the way these families have.

“It’s hard to move on after someone you loved has been killed. I feel like the only ones that have moved on and say it gets easier turned to alcohol and drugs,” Miller said. “The best thing is to live your life and do the best you can each and every day.”

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