In 2007, Congress designated September 25 as National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. This year is the first year the City of Nogales held a ceremony, celebrating the day by honoring loved ones.

Susan Stemper worked with the City of Nogales to bring the ceremony to life, making it a safe space for family members who lost their loved ones.

One by one, family members stated the names of the loved ones who were victims of homicide.

I’m just trying to reunite families together and create a community amongst each other because I think we need each other, said Stemper.

Stemper lost her daughter Marilyn Pacheco in 2019 when she was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend on Interstate 19.

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Were advocates and she always knows that. She sees us, I know she does, and shed be very proud of us, she said.

She’s taught her granddaughter, Natalie, to speak confidently about her situation. Natalie spoke in front of the audience, reciting a letter she wrote for her mother.

Dear mommy, I am in middle school nowboy do I wish you were here with me, she said.

Among the audience was the family of Berenice Aguirre. Aguirre was killed by her boyfriend in a hostage situation in 2019.

Her sister Jacqueline Lara said she waited outside the apartment for hours, knowing her sisters eight-month-old daughter was inside.

Around 11 they told us her baby was fine, and we got to see her, and that changed everything,” said Lara. “Well not everything, but seeing her baby so happy and having her in my arms, it meant so much.

Jacqueline Lara and her mother, Elva Aguirre, have cared for Berenice Aguirres daughter since then. She is now 4-years-old. Just recently, she was reunited with the officer who had saved her from the apartment.

It was a sign of relief because for a long time, I had thought about that baby that was stripped so young from her mother, said former Nogales Police Officer, Mario Morales. He worked for the Santa Cruz County Sheriffs Office until his retirement, and is now running for Santa Cruz County Sheriff.

I was so happy to see him because I never knew who took my granddaughter from the arms of that person and now I can put a face, said Elva Aguirre.

Susan Stemper is already planning for next year’s ceremony to help more families continue taking steps in healing.