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Unsolved homicide not forgotten

More than a year after a 20-year-old Chicago man was killed, friends and family continue to update his memorial Facebook

Joel Verdugo's girlfriend, Jessica Macias, says one day there will be justice for him. (Photo from R.I.P Joel Verdugo Facebook page.)

Joel Verdugo’s girlfriend, Jessica Macias, says one day there will be justice for him. (Photo from R.I.P Joel Verdugo Facebook page.)

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R.I.P Joel Verdugo” has garnered 275 likes with posts that express the sadness, anger and grief his friends and family have experienced since his death.

An unknown assailant shot Verdugo in the head March 25, 2012, as he walked by himself down the 4900 block of West Belden Avenue, according to the Chicago Police Department’s incident report.

No one has been arrested in his killing.

Verdugo’s homicide didn’t make national headlines; it barely surfaced in the pages of local newspapers. But that doesn’t mean his death has been forgotten.

The basketball fanatic who dropped out of Edwin G. Foreman High School and was working in a factory when he was killed is being remembered through social media.

Increasing numbers of homicide victims are being memorialized this way, giving friends and family an outlet for their grief and an easily accessible place to keep their loved one’s memory alive.

Kirstin James, coordinator of the Children’s Memorial Hospital’s Heartlight bereavement program in Chicago, has worked for nearly 20 years with families who have lost loved ones. She says survivors of homicide victims face more struggles and do not recover as easily.

“Families try to find a way to keep their deceased’s memory alive. Social media is a huge movement for the past 10 years for doing that and to help with the grieving process,” James says.

That’s what Verdugo’s sister Ahtziry Verdugo is doing through the Facebook page set up to remember her brother.

Ahtziry, who declined to be interviewed, updates the site at least once a month, posting from both her personal page and the memorial.

She created the memorial page the same day he died, and her posts show how she’s been affected by his death.

“I’m dying without you. How I miss you and need you, and I still can’t believe you’re gone. I’m here bursting in tears wondering what we would be doing,” she posted on Christmas 2012.

“I need you here with me. I’ll always love you,” she posted April 10.

Ahtziry also updates her own Facebook page daily with pictures of her brother expressing the grief she’s still feeling.

“Superman” she posted April 30, along with a collage of photos of her brother.

A picture on her cover page shows her in a black dress sitting next to her brother’s grave, which is decorated with vibrant flowers.

Grief expert James says memorial pages on Facebook are a way for people to gain and give support.

Jessica Macias, who dated Verdugo the last year and a half of his life, visits his Facebook page often.

But she’s focused on making changes in her own life to honor his memory.

“My life changed when he passed,” says Macias. “I stopped going to school.”

But this year, 19-year-old Macias decided she needed to complete her high school education, and she’s begun taking General Educational Development classes to earn her diploma; she’s also started working.

“I know what he would have wanted me to do was to move on and not be sad, so I’m doing all this for him,  to make him proud,” Macias says.

James says after a homicide, friends and family can experience post-traumatic stress.

“Their own sense of safety and their struggle with self identity are challenged, and that can be even more complicated when you’re a young adolescent and young adult,” James says.

Macias remembers the anger she felt about her boyfriend’s death and being upset by the fact that some people viewed Verdugo’s death as just another young man gunned down on the streets of Chicago. People don’t think about the sorrow friends and family have to deal with after their loved one is murdered, she says.

Or the impact that one person had on others.

Kristin James says it is hard when families have to wonder if their loved one's killer will ever be caught. (Photo courtesy of The Peapod Project.)

Kristin James says it is hard when families have to wonder if their loved one’s killer will ever be caught. (Photo courtesy of The Peapod Project.)

The Children’s Hospital’s James says it’s hard for those left behind after a violent and unexpected death.

“The world moves on, and we don’t have a choice. These grieving friends and families are mad at the world,” James says.

Finding comfort is difficult for Verdugo’s friends and family since no one has been charged or convicted in his death.

But Macias finds a sense of comfort by reminiscing about the young man she loved on – and off – her Facebook page.

Her Facebook page is filled with posts about her deceased boyfriend, and she regularly posts photos of her boyfriend along with quotes about loss.

“He was sweet and told me pleasant things that made me feel better about myself,” Macias says. “He also loved to write, and he would write long sweet letters to me, his sister and his friends.”

Keeping a loved one’s memory alive helps friends and family heal through social media and other ways, James says.

“Retelling that story so the emotions don’t have so much power over you, the less intrusive those thoughts can be.”

This story is part of a week-long series about homicides in Chicago. ChicagoTalks, a news outlet operated by Columbia College’s Journalism Department, undertook a semester-long investigation of the topic funded with a grant from The Chicago Community Trust. ChicagoTalks is publishing additional stories throughout the week. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail project editor Suzanne McBride at smcbride@colum.edu.

This story is part of a week-long series about homicides in Chicago. ChicagoTalks, a news outlet operated by Columbia College’s Journalism Department, undertook a semester-long investigation of the topic funded with a grant from The Chicago Community Trust. ChicagoTalks is publishing additional stories throughout the week. If you have questions or comments, please e-mail project editor Suzanne McBride at smcbride@colum.edu.

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Posted by on June 6, 2013. Filed under Crime, Editor's Choice, Forgotten Dead, Special Series. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.