Walk honors family members lost to crime

Noel Lyn Smith

SHIPROCK – For a moment, traffic stopped on north U.S. Highway 491 on Wednesday as a group of runners and walkers crossed the road as part of a memorial walk to honor family members who lost their lives due to crime.

The memorial walk was organized by Healing Begins-Never Lose Hope, a local support group for families who have lost loved ones to violent crimes, and the Northern Navajo Medical Center.

Among the participants was Thessalonia Lewis, who ran from the hospital to the Shiprock Police Department in memory of her uncle, Orthaniel “OJ” Bidtah. Bidtah and his best friend, Gilbert Bekis, were killed by a drunk driver on Navajo Route 36 in July 2014. A photograph that showed the two men smiling was displayed on Lewis’ T-shirt.

“I was close to him. He was like a father to me. …He raised me like I was his child,” Lewis, 22, said about her uncle.

Judy Wolfe, left, and Antonita Nunes lead a crowd of walkers and runners away from the Northern Navajo Medical Center during the Healing Begins-Never Lose Hope honor walk for victims lost to crime and fallen law officers on Wednesday in Shiprock.

Lewis, along with her mother, aunt and a family friend, joined the memorial walk and its candlelight vigil because they wanted to support and receive support from families who have experienced similar losses.

“We think it’s a good idea for all these families, who are grieving, to come out and support one another. It shows how much the community cares,” she said.

At the police department, a small ceremony was held to honor the 11 Navajo police officers who have died in the line of duty. Tariah Yazzie, 17, is one of the daughters of Navajo Police Officer Alex Yazzie, who was killed after responding to a call involving domestic violence in March 2015.

“I’m doing good. Sometimes, it’s hard. I pray, and I talk to him,” Tariah Yazzie said about her father.

Yazzie, who traveled to the event with her mother, Annalene Benally, from their home in Crownpoint, read a poem she wrote that was dedicated to fallen police officers. She watched as Navajo police officers James Hale and Herbert Frazier, who were injured in the gun battle that claimed Yazzie's life, and Lt. Phillip Joe laid a wreath in front of the police station.

Participants in Healing Begins-Never Lose Hope light candles in memory of loved ones lost to violence on Wednesday at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock.

A candlelight vigil was held in the group's healing garden outside the hospital's main entrance. As people took turns lighting candles, family members shared the names and information about their loved ones.

Sharlene Talk stood with her grandson, Quanare White, 5, the only child of her late daughter, Nicole Adams, who was 21 years old when she was killed on Nov. 29, 2014, in Albuquerque.

“A lot of you who lost their loved ones, I can imagine the grief you’ve gone through, I’ve been through it. Not a day goes by without thinking about her,” Talk said.

In an interview after the vigil, Talk said she copes with her lost by believing in God and receiving support from groups like Healing Beings-Never Lose Hope. She said it was important to be at the event because she was surrounded by people who understand her pain because they are facing the same feelings.

Families and friends honor Alex Kee Yazzie and other police officers who died in the line of duty during the Healing Begins-Never Lose Hope honor walk on Wednesday at the Navajo police station in Shiprock.

Roberta Diswood is a co-coordinator for the hospital’s Keep On Movin’ It event and the tribe’s Just Move It fitness series. In comments before the memorial walk, she told participants to think about their family members and to remember them as they joined others in sharing stories and memories.

Daryl Junes-Joe, a member of Healing Begins-Never Lose Hops, said the group was formed to help people process their loss outside of professional services. There are times when talking to another person who has shared the same experience is easier, she said.

“We share and talk. In a way, this is a healing process,” Junes-Joe said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.