Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Annual ceremony honors victims of crime in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE

This time last year, Roxanne Nelson was too distraught to pin her daughter's ribbon to the wreath.

When Nelson showed up for the annual ceremony to memorialize Hernando County crime victims, it had been just five months since her 28-year-old daughter Dana's brutal murder. When it came time for Roxanne to attach the blue ribbon bearing her daughter's name to a wreath of flowers, Nelson had someone else do it for her.

"I was frozen to my chair," she recalled. "I'm hoping this time I have the guts to do it."

Dana's killer, who also murdered her 29-year-old boyfriend John Ketsemidis, was later sentenced to life in prison. On Wednesday, Nelson was back at the Hernando County Government Center, holding Dana's ribbon and waiting for the Victims' Voice ceremony to begin.

Hosted by the State Attorney's Office for the past 23 years, the event brings together strangers united by grief. Many of the criminal cases that resulted in their losses have been resolved for years. Others, like Nelson's, are still fresh. And some are still working their way through the court system.

During brief remarks, Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis said members of his agency empathized with the survivors. The list of names about to be read included Deputy Lonnie Coburn, Capt. Scott Bierwiler and Deputy John Mecklenburg. The man Mecklenburg was chasing when he died in a crash in June 2011 is set to stand trial later this year.

"That wound is still very, very, very raw," Nienhuis said. "We know how it is to have your heart ripped out."

For Anita McCain, Wednesday's ceremony was a little easier than last year's. Back then, the woman who ran a red light and plowed into McCain's 67-year-old husband, Henry, and his motorcycle had yet to stand trial. The driver was sentenced two months ago to life in prison.

"I still miss my husband very much, but there is some peace now," she said.

Yet the grieving process is ever evolving.

Rebecca Altieri was 7 years old when a neighbor's boyfriend knocked on the door of her family's Spring Hill home in 2001 and stabbed her 42-year-old father, Michael, to death in front of his wife and two daughters. The man then snatched Rebecca's sister, dragged her into the woods and assaulted her. He is serving four consecutive life sentences.

On Wednesday, with her mother by her side, Rebecca pinned the ribbon bearing her father's name to the wreath of yellow daisies.

She did it to honor her dad.

"And so the person who did this doesn't get the best of me," she said.

This time, Roxanne Nelson didn't hesitate when her daughter's name was called. She stood, walked to the wreath and pinned the ribbon to the top.

"I did it for Dana," she said.

Reach Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

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