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Remarks of Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.

National Crime Victims' Rights Week
National Observance and Candlelight Ceremony
April 23, 2009

Thank you, Laurie.

As you all know, this ceremony is part of a week-long series of events dedicated to the 25th Anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act. The theme of the week is "25 Years of Rebuilding Lives." Tomorrow we will celebrate some of the extraordinary individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions in the service of crime victims. It is appropriate and important to recognize the service of these men, women, and groups.

Tonight, however, we pay tribute to those who have been victimized by crime. We remember the personal tragedies that victims have endured, and we honor their daily struggle to rebuild their own lives and the lives of those around them. Their stories are often tragic, and yet also fundamentally uplifting. And so it is right that we take a moment, in the quiet of this place, to stand vigil.

The word vigil derives from the Latin "vigilia," or "wakefulness." It means literally "a period of purposeful sleeplessness," a time when we as a community can come together to focus, solemnly and reflectively, on those who need and deserve our love, our support, and our prayers. This is why we are here tonight.

And it is, indeed, humbling to be here this evening. I am aware that there is a special kinship among crime victims, a kinship based on a shared experience of suffering and loss, but also of renewal and hope. Not all of us here have had that experience, nor can we truly know what it's like to have lived through the tragedy of victimization. But we are so grateful to all of you who have opened your hearts to us here tonight.

The stories of crime victims are remarkable for what they teach us about the human capacity for overcoming adversity. Who among us hasn't heard a victim's story and wondered, "How does that person manage to keep it together?" I have asked myself this question countless times as a prosecutor, working with victims to prepare for trial, and as a judge, presiding over criminal proceedings. The grief, the pain, and the loss that play out time and again in the courtroom are often too much to comprehend.

I could stand here all night cataloguing the range of emotions that victims' stories evoke: sadness, to be sure; sympathy for the men, women, and children whose lives are inalterably affected by senseless crimes of violence and exploitation; and anger that such crimes can, in this day and age, happen at all.

But most of all, these stories inspire deep admiration and respect for the brave individuals who persevere and overcome in the face of incalculable pain. Their courage, their determination is an inspiration to all of us.

Every crime victim's story - at once tragic and triumphant - reminds us that we all are joined by a common bond of mutual affection and empathy. They teach us that we each have an inner reserve of strength that can be called upon in times of great suffering. Lincoln, who experienced more than his share of tragedies, was fond of saying that "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." He believed that, as bad as things look, as dark as the hour, we can find the strength to go forward. That's not to say that we can escape pain and loss - millions of crime victims will tell you there is no greater illusion - but we do have the power to face it and to overcome it.

The story of Quincy Lucas is proof of our common humanity, and of our boundless strength. Quincy Lucas turned her loss into a life of purpose and meaning. She didn't do it alone. She needed the support of those around her - her family, her community, and people like many of you here tonight who seek to make a difference in the lives of crime victims. But with help, she did it. And her message of hope is one from which we should all take comfort.

So tonight we remember the suffering of crime victims everywhere. But we also honor their determination and courage. And in so doing, we stand vigil in wakeful acknowledgment of the essential strength of humankind.

Thank you.

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