My sister was shot to death in our dining room on a bright, sunny August afternoon, shortly after 1 p.m., a year before I was born. She was 14 years old.
There was never an investigation. When our uncle was found drowned in the Kaskaskia River, law enforcement decided, after the largest manhunt in Illinois, that Uncle Lawrence was the killer, and everyone went home.
I know murder from both sides. My sister was allegedly murdered by my uncle.
I was born in 1955, a year and two days after my sister was murdered. My parents brought me home from the hospital and set up my basinet in her bedroom. For the first year of my life, my parents and I ate at the dining room table, in the very room where my sister had been murdered. You could tell because there was a permanent bullet hole in the wall where one of the shots went completely through her body, and into the woodwork. My cousin told me he used to look at it, and stick his finger in it, every time he came over. He was a couple of years younger than my sister. That dining room was also the room where my sister’s funeral visitation was held.
I have always lived with murder. That makes me a co-victim, according to van Wijk, van Leiden and Ferwerda. A co-victim is someone who is victimized because of their association with the deceased, or with their killer. I suppose that makes me a co-co-victim.
Most people would agree that murder is not healthy. Ironically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes homicide statistics through the National Center for Health Statistics for “for health statistical reporting and analysis only.”
Health. Murder is a health issue.
Not only is it unhealthy physically, it is cripplingly unhealthy, mentally. Like my cousin poking his finger in the bullet hole, in our dining room, co-victims don’t think and don’t behave like the rest of you.
When anyone hears of a murder, they shake their heads in wonder. They ask, “How did that happen?”
We don’t always have an answer to that, us co-victims. Sometimes it can be obvious. But, I can honestly say that I have no idea why anyone would shoot my sister. I have no idea why my uncle would. After a decade of deep research into the matter, I am no longer convinced that my uncle was the shooter. Now, my own family says I am in denial.
Oh, yes. That’s another thing. Co-victims don’t always follow the normal stages of grieving. As studies say, our expectations differ from the rest of you. Our world failed us, and we will never be the same as you. So, sometimes we rethink our world.
Not every murder is committed with a gun. But, I can only speak for gun murders.
I wrote about my sister’s murder initially because I was tired of repeating her story. I would like to eventually talk about how to talk to co-victims. I can tell you lots of ways not to! I will talk about that in another article.
But, like I said, co-victims don’t behave properly. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a cousin who had been 229 miles away when my sister was murdered and was a teenager himself at the time, accused me of not getting the story right. It’s true that I never interviewed him while writing the book. I recall only meeting him twice in my life and, of all the relatives my sister mentioned in her diaries, his name never came up once. I attempted to interview his mother three times, and she told me, “Grandma would not want you to write this book.”
He opted to act out. He published his criticism publicly on a website. Book sales stopped. I never wrote the book for money. I wanted to tell my co-victim story one last time, in as much documented detail as I could, and be done with it. I am not exactly sure why he chose to comment publicly. He never contacted me privately. If he had and, if he had proof, I could have revised and written a second edition.
It is exhausting being a co-victim. I wanted it to end. But, one thing you need to know.
Being a co-victim never ends. I have moments when I envy my dead sister. It ended for her. It will never end for me. I will always be “that little Edwards girl.” That’s whole ‘nother story, as they say.
As soon as my book came out, a friend immediately advised me to write about my experience, as a co-victim. I swore I would never do that. Telling our story—and I am very much a part of the story—is crushing.
But, then, co-victims are unpredictable. We try. We work harder than you can ever imagine to be normal, to be accepted, to be healthy. And, it is hard.
So here I am. I have some things to say that might offer some insight. Maybe they will help someone.
I am not sure that I will say anything that the studies don’t already say. But, the average person doesn’t read studies. Maybe someone will hear my voice, as I tell you what being a co-victim is like, on a daily basis and gain a little understanding.
For one thing, who are the co-victims? I define them—and I am no expert—as those who are close to someone who has been murdered or to someone who is a murderer. Beyond the murder itself, from my personal perspective, life isn’t much different. Remember, for decades I accepted the theory that my uncle murdered my sister.
Here is how I do the math. For every person who is murdered, or who murders another person, there are at least 7 co-victims. There are usually two parents; four grandparents; and, on average, at least one sibling.
According to the CDC—remember murder is a Health issue—there were 24,576 murders in 2020. If my math is correct, and I’m not saying that it is, then there are 172,032 co-victims, per death. That doubles, if we assume that each murderer kills just one person. So, I’m not even taking into account mass murders (four or more victims). And that is just from last year.
That’s a lot of people, all trying to cope with the aftermath of murder. It doesn’t even include friends, neighbors, classmates and coworkers.
I am not convinced that realizing these numbers, or my writing, will stop the murders. I don’t know if what I have to say will help co-victims.
Since most murders are committed with guns, we can at least stop the guns. That’s number one. A handgun exists for 3 purposes: target practice for killing; killing; killing by accident.
When my sister was shot to death, there were at least three guns in the house. My father was a hunter. My sister was ironing laundry. She didn’t have a loaded gun in a holster at her side.
She was exercising freedom. She was doing laundry.
My 14-year-old sister should never have needed to defend herself from a loaded gun. No one should have walked into our house and shot my sister to death in our dining room.
I expect backlash over guns. It’s okay. I have lived through worse than words.
I am a co-victim. Oh, wait. I am a co-co-victim.
 van Wijk, A. van Leiden, I., and Ferwerda, H. (2016) 'Murder and the long-term impact on co-victims: a qualitative, longitudinal study.' International Review of Victimology.
 National Center for Health Statistics. CDC WONDER. Underlying cause of death, 1999–2017. 2018. Accessed Nov. 23, 2022