One Sunday a month, a handful of people comes together at Fort Dodge Health & Rehabilitation, meeting for a couple hours in the afternoon.
On the surface, they appear to be a group simply getting together to socialize.
But the members of the Homicide Survivors Group have a deeper reason to meet: They have all lost loved ones to murder.
-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Homicide Survivors Group members Pauline Kolacia, left, and Anita Michael discuss the next meeting’s plans at Fort Dodge Health & Rehabilitation. The women said being a part of the group has helped them greatly. Kolacia’s son, Bill Kolacia, and Michael’s daughter, Holly Michael, were both murdered.
They meet to talk not only about their loved ones, but about what is happening in their lives, current events in the world, and their common, tragic bond.
Through this, they have become friends.
The Homicide Survivors Group was founded in 1998 by the late Leonard Fuller, who had worked with the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center as an AmeriCorps volunteer. He eventually became a court advocate and a homicide/violent crime advocate.
The members of the Homicide Survivors Group have one tragic thread in common: they have had a loved one who was murdered. The following are just a few of their loved ones whose lives were cut short:
Holly Michael, 22, died on Jan. 26, 2006, after being severely injured in a fire more than two weeks earlier. Sessions Harper was convicted of first-degree murder in her death and is now serving a life sentence.
Gina Pirie Abens, 24, was found dead in her Plover home on Oct. 9, 1991. An investigation determined she had been shot and killed by her husband, David Abens, who then committed suicide.
Bill Kolacia, 46, was killed in the parking lot of a Fort Dodge bar on Feb. 23, 1998. After two trials, Larry Artzer was convicted of second-degree murder in Kolacia's death. He is serving a 50-year prison sentence.
Mitch Hanrahan, 44, was found murdered in his Santa Fe, N.M., apartment on April 2, 1998. A Fort Dodge native, Hanrahan had worked in Santa Fe for eight years. His murder remains unsolved.
"Leonard took his job very seriously and was instrumental in providing support to hundreds of families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, homicide and violent crime," Marie Harvey, assistant director/counselor for D/SAOC, said recently. "Leonard had a true passion for working with victims of crime."
In fact, Fuller was one of the main reasons Pauline Kolacia ended up joining the Homicide Survivors Group after her son, Bill Kolacia, was murdered.
"He had told me, 'Maybe you could help someone else,'" Kolacia, of Fort Dodge, said. "That's the line that got me to come."
Although each member of the group arrived in their own way, they agree it has been helpful talking with others who have also experienced losing a loved one to murder.
"It was the best thing for me," Kolacia said. "I'm glad I finally did join, because everyone here has become my friend."
Anita Michael, of Fort Dodge, whose daughter, Holly Michael, was murdered, is a familiar face at the meetings.
"Why try to be alone through suffering when there's others that truly understand?" asked Michael at a recent meeting.
Ed and Laurine Pirie, of Pocahontas, parents of the late Gina Pirie Abens, agreed.
"We were seeking some help," Laurine Pirie said. "People who lose someone to cancer, natural death or accidental death can't understand what we've gone through."
To assume a meeting of people directly affected by homicide is always depressing would be wrong, especially with the Homicide Survivors Group. In fact, at a recent meeting, group members laughed as they discussed their experiences riding trains.
Outside of formal meetings, the members see each other at picnics and Christmas parties.
The Homicide Survivors Group is open to anyone, regardless of their relationship to the victim.
"It does not have to just be a parent or spouse," Harvey said. "We've had children and siblings in the past, and aunts and uncles are also welcome."
Michael said the group can help homicide survivors deal with the feelings they have about the death of their loved ones.
"You learn what to do with the anger you feel after the murder of a loved one," she said. "We're also open to the siblings, because their thoughts and anger are different than ours."
Anyone interested in joining the Homicide Survivors Group should call Harvey at 955-2273.