SAN DIEGO - One by one, parents, siblings and even children who suffered an unimaginable loss illuminated a candle in their loved one's honor on Monday.
They were remembering a life cut short by violence at the 24th candlelight tribute for local crime survivors held each year at the San Diego Police Officers' Association.
The DEA, along with the Victim Assistance Coordinating Council, held the candlelight tribute for crime survivors.
Two families who were there for the first time each had a child die on their 21st birthdays: Lakiesha Mason and Aris Elijah "AJ" Pugal were killed in separate shooting incidents three years ago.
Memorial Day weekend of 2009 should have been the start of Mason's adult life. She was celebrating her 21st birthday in the Gaslamp Quarter when she was caught in chaos caught on surveillance video. The video showed people running for cover as three men, now convicted of her murder, fired into the crowd.
"I try to focus on the fact that it's a bond of survivors, not of people who have had such a tragedy," said Mason's parents, Debra Nesby and Samuel Mason. "Yes we did have that, but we are a bond of survivors."
Pugal's parents, Marietta and Abdon Pugal, told 10News, "It's encouraging. It gives you hope that there is still a light in that darkness in this journey that we have to travel."
The Pugals lost their son in the fall of 2010 after he was shot dead in Mira Mesa near a house party he had been attending with friends.
"There will be always a broken piece in our hearts, but with this, I'm grateful and I'm blessed that I'm here," Marietta Pugal said.
The annual tribute is a time to memorialize victims and to hear inspirational words from local law enforcement agencies, victim advocates and personal stories from the victims themselves.
Monday night's event was just one of many around the country during crime victims' rights week.