SEATTLE — Lola Linstad struggled to find help after the murder of her daughter, Vonnie Stuth, in 1975. The criminal justice system overwhelmed her.
Linstad, of Seattle, knew she could not be the only person grieving a missing or deceased loved one. So she paired up with her friend Linda Barker to compile names of families of local missing people and contacted them to arrange a meeting.
On Feb. 25 of that year, 13 families met to share their experiences. The solidarity felt by attendees that day inspired the start of Victim Support Services, a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting crime victims and their family members. Today, the nonprofit serves residents of Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Michaela Weber, executive director of Victim Support Services, said the organization serves a crucial, unique role. Prosecutors and law enforcement can provide support to victims and their families, Weber said, something known as system-based advocacy. But she said those options aren’t the best fit for everybody.
“We are community-based advocates,” Weber said. “Meaning that we have no limitations on the clients that we serve. They don’t have to have a police report. They can just come to us at free will and say, ‘hey this is what happened to me or a family member,’ and we can help them. There doesn’t have to be a criminal case going.”
Some people may have concerns about working with law enforcement for reasons like immigration status, Weber said. Or they worry their case isn’t high enough profile to justify help from police.
“We believe in ‘no wrong door,’” she said. “Everybody should have the same access to services, regardless of the view on the crime — where it lands on the scale of bad-to-worse.”
Last month, Victim Support Services hosted a Fall Ball event and fundraiser at Hotel Indigo on the Everett waterfront.
One of the guest speakers at the event was Liberty Miller, an author and activist whose brother was murdered in 1997 in Oregon.
In her speech, Miller said she stumbled across Victim Support Services about 10 years ago when she lived in Bellingham. The organization was advertising an event for the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, September 25. Never having heard of the organization, Miller decided to check out the event.
“The aloneness of homicide is so tragic and so suffering,” Miller told the crowd. “Attending the event in Bellingham through VSS — being surrounded by people who understood, people who didn’t shy away from me because of what I had been through — it was so healing.”
Since that event 10 years ago, Miller said she’s been to dozens of other events put on by Victim Support Services.
Funding struggles have forced the organization to close multiple Western Washington offices in recent years, director Weber said. Their one remaining physical space is located in Snohomish County. Victim Support Services could dissolve if they do not secure more funding, Weber said.
If you would like to donate to Victim Support Services, text VSSEOY to 53555 or visit the website givebutter.com/VSSEOY.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen.
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