Victim Support Services (Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. It is the oldest victim assistance organization in Washington State, and one of the first in the nation. Our Mission is to support victims of crime through advocacy, education and awareness.
Victim Support Services was Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims. In 2013 the organization underwent a re-branding process, and changed their name to better reflect the work the agency does.
Families and Friends was founded by Lola Linstad and Linda Barker, after the abduction and subsequent murder of Lola’s 19-year old daughter, Vonnie Stuth. The Linstads had become frustrated by the criminal justice process, which seemed to be more concerned with the rights of the suspect than those of the victims, and wondered how people in similar circumstances felt. Over the previous year, the Pacific Northwest had experienced a number of disappearances of young women and children. With the help of a newspaper reporter, Lola and Linda compiled a list of names and addresses of the families of missing girls and contacted them to arrange a meeting.
On February 25th, 1975, thirteen families came together in a church auditorium to share their heartbreaking experiences and to talk about their mutual concerns.
“I’ll never forget that first meeting. It is forever etched in my memory. We arrived early to setup and make coffee. We barely spoke to each other as we waited for these strangers to arrive. We were lost in our own thoughts of the past few months of pain, anxiety, and fear of what had been and now of what was to come. As the others began to arrive, one by one and in family groups, we greeted them and introduced ourselves. They took a seat at the table without saying a word. They too were withdrawn into themselves. Then we began…we told them why we had called them together – our frustration and pain. One by one, the participants began to tell their stories, talking about their own cases, their children. You could see it in their faces as realization of solidarity came to each person, they were no longer alone, and someone else understood – really understood how they felt. Soon they were completing each other’s sentences. They felt secure enough to cry with these strangers who were suddenly confidantes. One’s pain became the pain of all. The electricity in the room crackled. FINALLY…someone had given us permission to feel, someone was validating our pain.”(Linda Barker, co-founder)
As a result of this meeting Families and Friends of Missing Persons and Violent Crime Victims was established with these goals:
- Examining the criminal justice system
- Giving assistance to families and friends of victims during time of grief
- Educating the public on the impact that violent crime has in our society
The group began by holding two monthly meetings; one was a planning meeting for members, and the other public meeting in which representatives of various parts of the criminal justice system were invited to speak and answer questions. The latter proved to be a valuable way of educating members and the public on how the criminal justice system operates. The organization identified several areas that needed to be addressed immediately and started effecting change by:
- Implementing a court watch program that gathered data, evaluated judges and announced the ratings prior to judicial elections
- Pushing for prison reform and advocated mandatory minimum sentencing
- Campaigning to reinstate the death penalty in Washington State
- Encouraging law enforcement agencies to aggressively investigate disappearances instead of attributing most to the “runaway” category
- Advocating for the right of victims and survivors to address the court at sentencing (Victim Impact Statement)
- Testifying at state legislative hearings
- Reaching out to other victims and families so that they would not have to endure their suffering alone