Todd Blumhorst is uniquely qualified for his new job. Unfortunately.
He is the first cold-case advocate for Homicide Survivors, a support group for the families of missing and murdered loved ones. Blumhorst was 16 when his sister, Veronica, disappeared from their family home in Illinois 20 years ago. She is presumed dead.
"He is a survivor of an unsolved case, and he can speak from the heart to other survivors," said Carol Gaxiola, executive director of Homicide Survivors.
"Families with unsolved cases have a very different kind of grief. It's a very complicated grief, and it's compounded by the fact that there are no answers and justice seems far away.
"People in the criminal justice system are overworked, and it does not allow the kind of time victims' (families) may need. They get notified if something happens in the case, but years can go by with no news. This is a gap we can fill."
The organization is using grant money to fund the position for two months with the hope that another funding source will emerge to make the position permanent. Blumhorst started his job on May 2. He has reviewed 98 unsolved cases so far, which amounts to about 10 percent of Homicide Survivors' files.
Blumhorst moved to Tucson in 2001 and began attending support group meetings after reading about Homicide Survivors online.
Q: Why did you seek out Homicide Survivors?
A: "We never really talked about it back home. It was a really, really sore subject.
"I remember the first night (at a meeting). They let me speak and I really didn't want to - I'd been conditioned not to talk about it - and I realized people were intently listening, and that had never happened before."
Q: You forgive the person who killed your sister. Why?
A: "I have a quote … on my Facebook page: 'When you hold anger, you hold it by the blade.' I realized it was eating me up - hating him, despising him. It was killing me, that anger, that hatred, and I got fed up. He's got to face a higher power someday; he's got to account for his actions. I think that was the start of my conversion from being a victim to being a survivor. I let that go. I didn't want to hold that knife blade anymore."
Q: What is your hope for Veronica's case?
A: "It's not that I'm ever going to give up looking for justice for her, but I've come to the reality that most cases this old are never solved. Instead, I focus my energy. That's what I'm doing with Homicide Survivors."
Q: How should friends react to people who have missing or murdered family members?
A: "Just be supportive. Just be willing to listen. A lot of times that's what people want. They want to vent. They have so much going on inside of them - a conflict of emotions - especially with a missing-person case.
"There comes that tipping point; you want your loved one to be alive, but then there's that realization that they probably are dead. There are a multitude of feelings - 'Do I mourn or do I have hope?' If it's an unsolved homicide, you have that fear the killer's out there - 'Is he going to come after me?' "
Q: How do you use your experiences to help others?
A: "When I say I love this job, it's not that I love reading murder file after murder file, gruesome death after gruesome death. It's that I know I can make an impact in these families' lives and let them know somebody still cares."
Did you know
Homicide Survivors provide support for families of murder victims.
Gail Leland started the nonprofit after her 14-year-old son, Richard, was murdered in 1981.
For more information about Homicide Survivors, go to www.azhomicidesurvivors.org or call 740-5729.
Missing but not forgotten
Veronica Jill Blumhorst wasn't feeling well. She was recuperating from an illness and decided to leave work early to go home and sleep. Veronica, 21, a clerk working the late-night shift at a Mendota, Ill., grocery store, drove home at about 1 a.m., parked her car in her parents' garage and disappeared. It was Sept. 20, 1990.
The case remains unsolved.
When she disappeared, she had $4 in the bank, no credit cards and plans for the next day: a doctor's appointment and a girl's day out with her sister to discuss Veronica's wedding plans. Yet local police initially considered her a runaway. Investigators failed to collect fingerprint evidence, lost DNA evidence and didn't follow up on a purported murder confession made by her boyfriend.
On the 20th anniversary of the petite, bubbly blond's disappearance, Veronica's family, friends and former high school classmates and co-workers attended a memorial and safety expo in her hometown organized by her brother, Tucsonan Todd Blumhorst. It's an event Blumhorst hopes to duplicate in Tucson in his role as Homicide Survivors' first cold-case advocate.
SOURCE: The "Remember Veronica Jill Blumhorst" Facebook page.
Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4191.
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