FORT VALLEY -- Arleshia Pettigrew of Macon knows all too well the anguish and struggles that come when a family member is a victim of crime.
Her daughter, 26-year-old LaTosha Taylor, was doused in gasoline and set on fire by her ex-fiance in August 2005 in her south Macon home.
Taylor, the mother of two, died 55 days later in an Augusta burn unit. Jomekia Pope was later sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing her.
Pettigrew was the keynote speaker Thursday at the opening ceremony for Victims Visitors’ Day, held at least twice a year across the state. The event allows crime victims and their families to meet face-to-face with members of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles and their staff members.
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Pettigrew stood in the gap for her daughter at Thursday’s event at Fort Valley State University. She talked about how Taylor was a loving mother, aunt, niece, cousin and friend. Pettigrew said her daughter was a fighter and remained so until the end. And she shared how Taylor had always been an achiever with an independent spirit.
She took the audience through the horrific night a decade ago that began with a birthday party for Taylor’s eldest daughter who was about to turn 8. She said Taylor’s daughters later went to a friend’s house for a sleepover and that Taylor had gone to lie down because she was tired. Pettigrew said Taylor likely was doused with the gasoline and set on fire in her bed.
Pettigrew recalled received the news, rushing to the hospital and later being by her daughter’s side at the Augusta Burn Center. She said Taylor’s daughters were not allowed to visit their mother in the hospital.
Taylor died Oct. 1, 2005. Pettigrew noted that Oct. 1 is the first day of Domestic Violence Week and thinks her daughter probably knew that.
After her talk Thursday, Pettigrew said she shares her story at similar events.
“It was really a good privilege to participate in this event to share my story with other victims, you know, because a lot of times you think that you’re alone, that other people have not experienced things that you’ve experienced,” Pettigrew said afterward.
Pettigrew said her faith in God and taking one day at a time has helped her through the tragedy.
“Things like this, there are no guidelines or procedures to deal with something like this,” she said. “What I’ve learned that you have to do is take one day at a time and keep God first.”
Pettigrew said she would encourage victims to take each day as it comes, remember that they are not alone, and “continue to fight for whatever it is that you feel that your family deserves, because you do deserve justice.”
Her daughter’s case took seven years to be prosecuted.
“It took time, but we have received justice,” she said.
After the ceremony, pardons and parole board members met individually with victims and their families.
More than a 170 people representing 70 cases had signed up ahead of time for the meetings, said Terry Barnard, board chairman. Walk-ins also were welcome. Board members promised to stay until everyone had an opportunity to meet with them.
Representatives of the state Department of Corrections and state Department of Community Supervision also were on hand to talk with victims and their families.
“All who are involved in today’s event want to help victims to become survivors,” Barnard said.
Also at the event, victims and their families were able to receive current information on offenders, including maximum release and parole dates and where an inmate is incarcerated. They also could register to receive future notification of the offender’s status, submit impact statements and receive victim services information. Instructions on how to use the various agencies websites also was available.
Since the board started having Victims Visitors’ Day in 2006, board members have met with more than 2,400 victims across the state, Barnard said.
The event was brought to FVSU by the Georgia Office of Victim Services in partnership with state Rep. Patty Bentley, D-Reynolds, whose district includes a southern portion of Peach County, as well as Taylor, Macon and Dooly counties.
Bentley said she began working with the state Office of Victim Services to bring a Victims Visitors’ Day to Fort Valley after attending one in another area of the state.
FVSU, which offers a degree in criminal justice, also held a career day in conjunction with the event.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.