Vigil honors crime survivors

SAN DIEGO — Elsie Lott, the mother of Tamara Henderson, the woman who was killed by her spouse on New Year’s Day 2011 at her Oceanside apartment in front of her two children, was a guest speaker at the 23rd annual Candlelight Tribute for Crime Survivors on April 23 at the San Diego Police Officers’ Association Hall. 

The family of Tamara Henderson attend the 23rd annual Candlelight Tribute for Crime Survivors Monday. Henderson was murdered by her husband Dontaye Henderson, who later received a sentence of 80-years-to-life for the killing. Photo by Shelli DeRobertis

More than 100 people filled the room, and half of the crowd stood up to show that they were there as family members of a victim of crime.

Counselors and representatives from various agencies also participated in the vigil, which is held each year to honor crime survivors.

“Some might wonder how someone who lost a daughter in such a tragic way can go on with their life. Well, let me tell you, I knew I had to let go and let God,” said Lott.

Dontaye Henderson, 29, of Oceanside, received a sentence in February of 80-years-to life in prison for the murder of his wife.

Henderson called 9-1-1 nearly an hour later, fled the scene and cut off his parole-issued GPS tracking bracelet.

The two young children were sitting by the Christmas tree in their apartment when authorities arrived.

Three days later, Henderson was captured in St. Louis, MO and brought back to the county to face charges.

Lott told the audience that the Monday after Tamara’s death that phone calls began flooding in.

“The one I remember most is the call from a social worker, to say she was sorry for my loss and that she would do everything she could to expedite getting my grandchildren back to me. That was music to my ears because I needed them, too,” she said.

The children had been taken into protective custody by authorities because Dontaye Henderson had been on the run and was eluding police at the time.

“The social worker did exactly what she said and I was able to bring the children home with me the next day,” Lott said.

She said that God continued to work miracles in their lives by the special people that have helped them after Tamara’s death.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Victim Assistance Program was another agency to offer the family help and support.

“You all went over and above and truly made this difficult time a little easier for us to get through. I will always be grateful. You are angels in disguise,” she said.

Lott’s process of adopting her grandchildren ended on April 12, when the adoption was finalized.

She and her grandchildren are moving back home to Louisiana this summer, to be surrounded by family, she said.

Lott’s daughter and Tamara’s sister, Tara Billups and her two young children, are also moving out of state with Lott.

“I feel blessed to be able to say everything has worked out better than we ever imagined,” she said.

U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy was a keynote speaker at the event, along with speakers Dick and Rita Moore, parents of college student Andy Tan Tai Moore who was discovered dead in his San Diego apartment in September 2000; and Taya Chase, crime survivor whose car was plowed into by a drunk hit-and-run teenage driver in 2009.

The tribute was held in conjunction with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The evening ended with a candle lighting tribute and a slide show honoring the victims.

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