By Erica Morse
Publisher, Victims News Online
Updated 3:40am CST, November 10th, 2012
Editor’s note: All those who have been charged are innocent until/unless convicted in a court of law.
— Two days ago, I received a call that knocked the wind out of me and nearly everyone I love. A man I’ve known for over 20 years was found dead — allegedly murdered — in what appears to be a senseless act committed by four teenage boys.
Sixty-nine year-old Gerald “Jerry” Peters was a life-long resident of my hometown; a beloved high school teacher for decades, pillar of the community, smalltown business owner, board member of several organizations, and renowned for his love of — and commitment to — our community theater association. To those who knew him, “Mr. Peters” was a bright, bubbly, shining force within our small Midwestern town, a passionate and vocal voice for our youth, and a man who literally devoted his entire life to making a difference in the lives of others. So when word began spreading in this Lake Michigan town that crime scene tape suddenly surrounded the home of one of our most beloved community leaders, everyone was stunned.
Impatiently, we waited for answers. I spoke with family, friends, reporters, and other former students from back home who — like me — were in absolute disbelief upon hearing the news. The Michigan City, Indiana, Police Department worked nonstop; and within hours of this tragedy, had one person in custody for questioning, and were seeking three others as persons of interest.
Friday, we learned the harsh truth: that our beloved teacher, mentor, friend, and surrogate grandfather to many was allegedly murdered by four teenage boys from our town, and that all four are now in custody, charged with felony murder.
Without presuming details, what little is known at this time includes the theft of Mr. Peters’ vehicle, as robbery appears to have been a participating motive.
As I read the press release (and accompanying photos), something hit me: I recognized one of the names on that arrest sheet, and not in a good way. Within seconds, I was on the phone to an advocate in the Midwest who confirmed my fear that the
fourth name on that sheet was, in fact, one of our missing.
Now, I’m sure we’ve all had those moments in our lives where the rug is pulled out from under us quickly. You get lightheaded, a little dizzy, and feel like your legs are about to give. That was me during that phone call. I went from grief to anger to confusion, back to anger, back to grief, in a matter of seconds. If I was hearing correctly — and reading the documentation in front of me properly — then I was expected to digest the fact that one of our missing has been accused of murdering one of the most beloved men in my hometown.
There’s a process we go through as volunteers upon learning one of our missing has been safely located. It involves some virtual “high-fives,” usually some tears, lots of phone calls, and a deep breath that ends with a release of all the anxiety, knowing that another one of our missing has been found, and is alive. Many of us who work in this arena develop strong bonds with the families of our missing, and — ultimately — the missing themselves, when they are located. I know of volunteers who’ve received graduation invitations, wedding announcements, baby updates, e-mails and phone calls from those they’ve helped to locate. I, personally, keep in contact with two of my former missing, and they always know if things get tough again, someone who cares is only a phone call away.
But this time, it’s different. This time, I can find no reason to celebrate.
One of the things we do best as a community, in my opinion, is to own our feelings and hold ourselves accountable for them. We deal with heavy situations — life-threatening and life-changing situations — and it seems, the missing persons’ community is rather comfortable keeping each other in-check, in-line, and stepping up to address when something isn’t right. I have friends in the volunteer sector who have no problem calling “b.s.” on a situation, as we cannot “fake it” when it comes to the missing. We have the harsh responsibility to ourselves, our missing, their families, and our teams to address our emotions and work through them so we may move on and still be of service to the next person who disappears. Hence, this article.
It is unclear at this exact moment as to whether or not Trevon Walker was still considered “missing” at the time this alleged crime was committed. The last document we know of is a report from July 2011 from the Indiana Missing Childrens’ Bulletin. That document lists Trevon Drakkar Walker as “missing” by the Michigan City Police Department, with a last known sighting of July 15th, 2011. Others in the missing persons’ arena in LaPorte County, IN, were also unclear as to whether or not he was earlier located, and we are still awaiting a final confirmation from the local PD. However, this missing persons’ world is a funny thing: time doesn’t seem to matter to us when it comes to a missing person. If they were lost and we discover they are safe, the length of time for that find doesn’t usually have much bearing on our emotions, as our concern is always their safety and well-being.
While I am grateful that Trevon Walker is safe, I can find no reason to celebrate that knowledge, based on these circumstances. I know in my heart that he was a missing person at some point, someone who deserved to be found, and who had a family out there looking for him. I know this because I’m reminded by everyfamily of every missing person that the actions of our missing are never to be taken into account when we look for them — when we speak for them — except to utilize our knowledge of any possible criminal activity in a way to locate the individual. As a reporter, I often hold back information from articles — sometimes at the request of the family or law enforcement — and sometimes, as a personal judgement call. Not every missing person disappears as a result of victimization — but to our team and every other agency and organization — every missing person IS a victim until he or she is found.
So now, I find myself in an unusual spot: as a voice for the missing, I still want to seek the truth, to be a voice, and to factually report the details of this situation. However, I am now torn; instead, wanting to speak for who I feel is the true victim in this incomprehensible situation.
I want to speak for Jerry.
If I work from my own mission, I have to remember that Trevon Drakkar Walker was also a victim — at one time. And I guess in the end, as much as we all strive to be the best version of ourselves, we’re only human; and human emotions sometimes cloud the very moral guidelines we aim to achieve, as we attempt to process situations for which there is no training manual.
As someone who speaks for the missing, I am able to acknowledge the return of one of our lost; but that doesn’t mean I will celebrate as usual or even consider it a victory. Trevon is home, and Jerry is gone. And to me — and thousands of others — it honestly doesn’t feel like a fair trade.
Rest in peace, Mr. Peters. We will miss you terribly.