Victim’s Rights Coalition of York County speaker helps those still grieving.

adouglas@heraldonline.comApril 28, 2013 

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    Remembering those murdered in York County in 2012:

    • Jackie Lashon Craine, 34, killed on Jan. 5

    • Alexander Hardin, 65, killed on Jan. 26

    • Elonia Ware, 41, killed on Feb. 22

    • Jamar Lavis Ferguson, 31, killed on April 21

    • Tristan D. Hunter, 20, killed on May 26

    • Polly Andrews, 78, killed on June 15

    • William Hayes, 50, killed on July 7

    • Clarissa Anne Disbrow, 18, killed on July 24

    • Anthony Davis, 54, killed on Sept. 5

    • Jonathan Earle, 41, killed on Sept. 9

    • Travis Daniel Koin, 22, killed on Nov. 6

    • Cora Moss Campbell, 76, killed on Dec. 11

For weeks after her first husband was murdered, Blanche Bryant slept in her king-size bed in York with a radio in the middle, playing tapes on repeat.

“I couldn’t stand the loneliness of that bed,” she said.

Loneliness, shock, anxiety and depression – all feelings Bryant felt then and told fellow family members of victims on Saturday that it’s OK to feel when someone you love is taken away.

Talking about a loved one who’s been killed, she said, is a powerful way of coping and moving forward.

Bryant was the guest speaker on Saturday at the Victim’s Rights Coalition of York County’s annual awareness ceremony.

It was the first time she’s spoken publicly about the murder of her first husband, Melvin Kelly, to whom she was married for 25 years.

Kelly was robbed and shot to death on Jan. 22, 1988 at their family farm in York.

When Kelly was killed, his wife and daughters were at home preparing for 500 wedding guests to arrive for a rehearsal dinner. Their daughter, Jeannette, was supposed to be married the next day.

Their youngest daughter, Hope, had just been accepted to attend Clemson University.

The proud dad “was thrilled with what was going on,” Bryant said.

Her husband went to the farm in York to feed his cows. After, he was supposed to go to Rock Hill and pick up candelabras for the wedding.

When he was late, Bryant called employees at the family’s business, Kelly Equipment Co., asking them to go to the farm and check on Melvin Kelly.

Someone drove to the farm and back to the office and told her, “His truck’s there but, he’s not there.”

His wife assumed one of the cows might be giving birth so she drove to the farm.

“I called his name and got no answer,” she said.

One of their daughters searched the farm’s property, finding Melvin Kelly’s body in a shallow creek bed.

Bryant followed the sounds of her daughter’s screams and saw her husband “laying in that ditch with his favorite Friday shirt on.

“The nurse in me – I took one look and I knew that he was dead.”

Bryant read the details of her first husband’s murder from 10 pages of notes on Saturday.

Gathered at Rock Hill’s Impact Community Church, about 50 family members of other murder victims listened.

Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts read the names of York County murder victims.

Thirty-three people have been killed since 2009. They were mothers and grandmothers, fathers and sons, siblings, friends, young and old.

One was a scuba diver. Another was a dancer. One man was killed on his birthday. The youngest victim was 18 years old, killed by what police think was a drunk driver.

All of their families, Bryant said, are grieving in different ways.

The family of Cora Moss Campbell, killed at 76-years-old, attended Saturday’s awareness program.

Eight of Cora Campbell’s brothers and sisters sat side-by-side, listening to Bryant talk about how God never left her alone, even when her husband was brutally taken out of her life.

Of the names read, Campbell was the most recent murder victim.

She was stabbed to death in her home on South Jones Avenue in Rock Hill. Police found her body on Dec. 14 – just a week after her husband James was buried.

No arrests have been made in the case.

If police find who killed Campbell, it may bring some closure, said Lovine Moss, one of seven of Campbell’s sisters.

For Bryant, the arrest of her first husband’s murderer brought closure and then terror when he escaped from prison in neighboring Lancaster County.

More than 10 years after he shot Melvin Kelly, Rickie Tim Caldwell escaped from a state prison by hiding on a food truck. He later attacked a man in Columbia.

A helicopter and bloodhound search led authorities to Caldwell, who was returned to prison to serve his life sentence for murder.

Even though she had married a gun-toting sheriff by then, Bryant and her daughters couldn’t rest knowing Caldwell was on the loose for a few days in 1997, she said.

Some days, she said, she looks at Caldwell’s picture on the state Department of Correction’s website.

There’s no hate in her heart – God doesn’t want the family of victims to hate the people who destroy their lives and murder innocent people, she said Saturday.

If you have faith, she said, God will give you something to pull you through the darkest times of grief.

For Bryant, that gift was York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, who she married after Caldwell’s two murder trials and conviction in 1990.

Bruce Bryant was the lead state investigator at the time of Kelly’s death.

“I tell people the good Lord took my heart but he gave me an angel in his place,” Blanche Bryant said.

“I needed an angel to get through what I had been through.”

For Campbell’s family, a close-knit bond between siblings has helped over the past four months since their sister was killed. “We keep the phone lines busy,” Moss said.

One of 10 children, Cora Campbell grew up on Rock Hill’s Main Street. Her mother was a homemaker and her father worked at the Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Company, known as the Bleachery.

Some families of victims don’t have close relatives or friends such as the Campbell’s, Blanche Bryant said.

For that reason, she and 26 other people volunteer with the York County “Coroner’s Care Team.”

The team is trained to provide friendship for families who are dealing with grief.

Blanche Bryant said she understands what the family of murder victims feel in a way that most other people cannot.

“You can say you understand, but you don’t understand if it hasn’t happened to you,” she said.

Blanche Bryant’s voice barely trembled once during her speech.

Her message included not being afraid to ask for help or see a psychiatrist if needed – something she did after her first husband was murdered.

Her resolve to not live a life of hate, anger or fear hopefully resonated with the victims’ families, she said.

“We all had this hurt. A hurt that we will never, ever get over. But it’s something we can live with. And we can move on. We’re not going to be stuck by what a person who had no regard for human life did.”

York County murders

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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