East TN families pause on Wednesday remembering loved ones lost to violent crimes

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Families paused on Wednesday, remembering their loved ones who lost their lives to violent crimes. It’s a somber observance on National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.

This commemorative day was established by the U.S. Senate in 2007. In Knoxville, a brick memorial ceremony was being held outside the City-County Building Wednesday night.

East Tennessee families we spoke with say it’s a day to make sure their loved ones are not forgotten.

“I could search forever for word but I couldn’t ever really find the words that would describe what it has done to me or my family losing Johnia,” said Joan Berry.

Berry’s daughter, Johnia Berry, was stabbed to death when a stranger broke into her apartment in December 2004.

RELATED: Knoxville family shares life-long impacts after verdict, finding justice, and the death penalty

“I’m grateful to God that I have such wonderful memories of her and I would rather have had her for 21 years then never had her at all,” said Berry.

For two-and-a-half years, investigators searched for Johnia’s murderer. This Wednesday, Sept. 25, marks 12 years since Taylor Olson was arrested. He was arraigned in court but he hanged himself in jail before he could be convicted.

“There was closure to that, finding out who murdered Johnia, but I don’t know what closure is because I always have that pain. I always have that empty place in my heart,” said Berry.

Berry says there’s much on her heart with this somber anniversary and it being the Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.

“She was very happy. She was very ambitious and she loved life… had the biggest smile and would light up the room when she came in,” Berry says of her daughter.

Berry says she spends the day with memories of Johnia: “You have to pick up and move on with life and I know Johnia would want me to do that.”

A message Berry hopes all of us take to heart, that this kind of loss can happen to anyone – and that life is precious.

“Share ‘I love you,’ and hugs with them all the time and don’t take a minute for granted,” added Berry.

The Berrys are part of the Hope for Victims organization, which has been advocating the Truth In Sentencing Act for years. This summer, Governor Bill Lee signed it into law.

MORE: Families of violent crimes at peace after passage of ‘Truth In Sentencing’ bill

It creates a minimum amount of time an inmate will have to serve when convicted of a felony violent crime.

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