Killings are way down in Oakland compared with this time last year. If the trend continues the city could see its lowest homicide rate in more than a decade.

Yet before folks start doing triple somersaults, here's a bit of a reality check. There have been at least 50 people killed so far this year, and we still have four months to go.

This much is also true: Since 2001, there have been nearly 1,500 killings in Oakland. Let's say, using a very conservative estimate, that homicide victims leave an average three family members or someone else who was closely connected to them behind. Multiply that number over the course of the last 13 years and you get 4,500 people.

It is a huge ripple effect of grief that reverberates well beyond Oakland.

For the survivors of homicide victims, the pain of a sudden, violent loss is always lurking beneath the surface. This is true no matter how much time has passed since the event or how many years of therapy someone has undergone.

Anniversaries are the most difficult times -- whether it's the victim's birthday or the anniversary of death. These grief triggers, along with the holidays, can unleash a rush of painful memories for loved ones and intensify the aching loss.

As Sept. 1 approached, Princess Beverly Williams was filled with dread. Her only son, Lorenzo Ward, 29, was shot and killed on that date in 2012 in North Oakland. Williams found herself flashing back to that traumatic day.


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She had been at a co-worker's husband's birthday celebration. A family member called to say that Ward had been shot. Williams rushed to the crime scene, but police officers and yellow tape held her back from her son.

The looming anniversary made her feel sick. She told the therapist that she has been seeing since her son's killing that she didn't want to come out of her house.

Williams is an organizer and housing counselor at Causa Justa, Just Cause, the nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing for low-income people. She has deep roots in the community.

The word circulated that Williams was having a difficult time and needed support.

The North Oakland Restorative Justice Council organized a community block party in memory of Ward and all victims of homicide. This past Monday, people from across Oakland gathered at the spot on 53rd Street near Martin Luther King. Jr. Way, where Ward was fatally shot as he got into his car.

There were more than 60 people present of all races and ages at the event billed by organizers as a community healing circle.

The nonprofit Growing Together supplied a fig tree, which children helped plant in Ward's memory. The group plans to plant another 100 trees for peace Sept. 21 to commemorate the International Day of Peace.

Ward, who is African-American, was killed, according to authorities, by two other young African-American men. It's easy for the humanity of victims to get lost amid the never-ending similar-sounding headlines.

Ward was more than a statistic. He was an expectant father. He was someone's nephew, cousin and best friend. Beyond the immediate circle of his family and friends, he belonged to a larger community.

Oakland resident Bobby Pree said he came the event to lend emotional support. "You can't go to the Hall of Justice to get help," he said. "People need that shoulder to lean on."

Several people had family members who had been killed. Two other mothers who were friends of Williams and had known her son had also lost sons to violence. When Gary "Malachi" Scott, a volunteer for the North Oakland Restorative Justice Council, asked how many people in the crowd had lost loved ones to homicide, a number of hands shot up.

They wrote their murdered loved ones' names -- as well as the names of those who are incarcerated -- on a piece of paper and tossed them into the fig tree soil to be buried in a symbolic gesture representing new life.

Williams and several family members shared their memories of Ward. Williams described Ward's daughter, now 15 months old, as a spitting image of him with pigtails.

"If it hadn't have been for all of the people here," she said, "I would have been in an insane asylum somewhere."

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Thursday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com, or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.