APD victim assistance unit prepared to help more families

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Maybe you have questions about your loved one case or maybe you just need a shoulder to cry on. APD recently formed a victim’s assistance unit for all of that and more. 

The department has always had advocates spread across divisions, but now nine advocates in the unit will all work under one roof, with the ability to respond as a unit to larger-scale tragedies.

“Whatever we can help with we’re there for them,” said Laura Chavez, the violent crimes victim assistance coordinator.

She had a very special reason for getting into this type of work. She taught Lily Garcia, a four-year-old who was shot and killed during an Albuquerque road rage incident in 2015. 

“Lily was such a special, special little girl, as all children are,” said Chavez. “But her death really did change me and I felt like maybe I couldn’t teach anymore.”

Lily’s mom, Veronica Rael-Garcia, takes some comfort in knowing her little girl touched so many lives in a short amount of time. 

“It’s an everyday pain that’s still there. There’s still that huge gaping hole in each of our hearts,” said Rael-Garcia. “It’s still raw.”

Her and her family are getting ready for another very difficult holiday season. 

“We still think about the first holidays without her, and then we think about the last holidays that we had with her,” said Rael-Garcia.

She praises the expansion and transition of the assistance unit, because she knows what it felt like to have more questions than answers at one point.

“You have so many questions, you don’t know which way to go, you don’t who to contact, you don’t know who to speak with,” said Rael-Garcia.

Other leaders within the unit say nine is a good start, but not enough for the need.

“It is very difficult to navigate through the criminal justice system and we’re the beginning, the police department, we’re the beginning of the entrance into the criminal justice system,” said Terry Huertaz, the victim liaison manager in the victim assistance unit.

Huertaz shared some advice for families dealing with loss this holiday season. 

“Just planning and knowing that it’s going to be difficult can get them through that day,” said Huertaz. “Because if they get off track emotionally they can go back to their plan.”

She also encourages families to start a new tradition to still celebrate that person you love in a sensitive way.