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Two Mothers Speak to Raise Awareness during Victims' Rights Week

by Cheryl Cadue last modified Jul 07, 2015 02:26 PM
The pair spoke about the slaying of their sons and their families' struggles that followed during the third annual Voices of Victims' Rally Friday in Topeka. The event marked the close of activities held as part National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Two Mothers Speak to Raise Awareness during Victims' Rights Week

KOVA President Holly Chavez (center) stands with Judi Bergquist (far left) and Beth Mellies (far right) who spoke at the the Voices of Victims' Rally in Topeka Friday.

In the early morning hours on July 10, 1986, the cracking of a 22-caliber semi-automatic rifle awoke Beth Mellies as she and her husband slept in their Netawaka-area farmhouse. In the next few minutes, her infant son would lay in his crib covered by searing discharged shell casings, her husband would lay motionless bleeding on the floor and a bullet-riddled Mellies could only watch as her 9-year-old son was fatally shot. The terrorized family would later discover that the gunman was Mellies 16-year-old stepson, Adam, who at first denied his involvement.

After seeking police and medical help for her family on what would turn out to be a broken leg, Mellies awoke in her hospital room and asked if the shooting had been a dream.

“I did this for a couple days and then I realized - I said, ‘OK. I have to start dealing with this,’” said Mellies, who was one of two speakers at the third annual Voices of Victims' Rally held in Memorial Hall Auditorium Friday in Topeka. The goal of the rally, sponsored by the Kansas Organization for Victim Assistance (KOVA), is to demonstrate support and awareness of crime victims in Kansas.

Mellies tearfully re-told her family’s story during the rally that concluded National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which ran April 6-12. The week’s theme, “30 Years: Restoring the Balance of Justice,” commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).

For Mellies, her family’s struggle with the justice system in the days and years following the shooting would be what fueled her determination to lobby for Kansas’ Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights. Mellies told the audience that following her testimony in support of the victim’s bill of rights, a judge on the task force studying the bill said that his assumption always had been that there was “someone else” helping victims to lessen the physical, emotional, and financial impact of crime.

The bill of rights successfully passed as an amendment to the Kansas Constitution in November 1992.

“It is gratifying to see how my small role has had an impact on all victims across Kansas,” Mellies said.

For Judi Bergquist, the ability to access a Kansas Department of Corrections’ Office of Victim Services program helped her recently find some peace following the shooting death of her son Joshua Kalina at a Topeka billiards club in 2007. Bergquist was able to meet the offender responsible for her son’s death, Timothy Abdul-Kareem Shahid, through the victim/offender dialogue program that provides an opportunity for victims or survivors of severe violence to meet with an offender, face-to-face, in a safe and structured setting with the assistance of trained facilitators.

Bergquist met with Shahid, who is currently housed at the Lansing Correctional Facility, and told him about the life that she had been able to share with her 20-year-old son before the shooting. The encounter was the first time Bergquist said she saw Shahid express remorse.

“I told him I forgave him,” Bergquist said. “I won’t forget. But I forgave him.”

Holly Chavez, president of the Kansas Organization for Victim Assistance (KOVA) said the rally’s speakers personified the purpose of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

“Their stories illustrated how far we’ve come and also that much work still remains,” Chavez said.

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