Helping Parents Endure a Loss They Know All Too Well
Part of The Sun’s “Be a Volunteer” series. Please email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org .
By Robert Mills
LOWELL -- A few weeks after Teresa Frye’s 20-year-old son Patrick was stabbed to death at a party in Lowell in 2007, Frye found herself home alone, crying, and feeling what she describes as “the worst pain there is.”
She called a number for the Merrimack Valley Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, an organization that brings together the families of homicide victims to support each other and raise awareness.
Alice Muscovitz, of Lowell, answered the phone.
“She listened and talked and listened some more like she had all the time in the world,” Frye said. “She was kind, understanding, open and honest. She knew what I was going through and she shared my pain.”
Alice and Arnie Muscovitz have known that pain since 2004, when their 27-year-old daughter Karen was murdered in Florida by her boyfriend’s mentally ill brother.
In 2006, Arnie Muscovitz asked his neighbor, a pastor, if he knew of any resources to help him cope. The pastor gave him a brochure for Parents of Murdered Children, but the closest chapter was in Concord, N.H.
Muscovitz met with the group in Concord until he learned a woman in Tewksbury was starting a chapter, got involved, and ended up leading the chapter after a few meetings.
In the 11 years since, Arnie and Alice Muscovitz have organized monthly meetings of the group to bring surviving families together; taken dozens of calls like Frye’s, and organized an annual gathering at Lowell City Hall on the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims.
Arnie is also on the board of directors for the Garden of Peace in Boston. And for several years the couple also organized an annual Victims’ Rights Gathering.
They did it all while also traveling to Florida for hearings in the case against their daughter’s accused killer, who was convicted of murder in 2010, but whose conviction was overturned in 2012.
That man has remained incompetent to stand trial in the five years since, and may soon have the murder charge he faces dropped due to Florida laws that require the dismissal of charges when a defendant isn’t competent to stand trial for over five years.
Arnie Muscovitz is now delaying knee surgery until he finds out if, and when, he may have to travel to Florida for additional hearings.
Last week, Muscovitz announced the Merrimack Valley POMC chapter would be closing due to declining attendance, and because he and Alice are hoping to spend summers in Maine now that they’re retired.
He said he plans to remain a contact person for those reaching out to POMC, and that he has heard from at least one person with possible interest in taking over the chapter, though whether that will happen remains unclear.
“My theory is that you have to keep yourself busy otherwise you’ll be sulking,” Muscovitz said of his motivation for giving so much of his time. “I want to help other people who are going through the same thing.”
City Councilor Rita Mercier was among the first people Muscovitz contacted as he started organizing events in Lowell.
“Sometimes when people experience a tragedy, they revert into a shell and mourn, but other times people take their sorrow and reverse it, using how sad they are to help other people who have experienced the same thing,” Mercier said. “That’s Arnie and Alice Muscovitz. This is what they did with their pain and sorrow.
“They provided a platform for people to heal.”
Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, a regular attendee at the Day of Remembrance whom Muscovitz thanked for his years of support, said the Muscovitz family made sure the voices of survivors are heard, and that their pain remains in the public consciousness.
“His dedication is nothing short of incredible and inspires me personally,” Koutoujian said.
Colleen McCann met Arnie and Alice after her son James McCann was murdered in Brazil in 2010, and said she knew no one who understood her pain at first.
“I had no one to talk to and no one who understood until I found Alice and Arnie at Parents of Murdered Children,” McCann said. “They accepted me and listened to me as a cried and talked about my love for my son. Fast-forward seven years and they still accept and comfort me like no one else could.”
Former state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos has spoken at the Day of Remembrance about his uncle, Lowell police Officer Christos Rouses, who was killed in the line of duty in 1978.
He said that in addition to providing a forum for affected families to come together, Arnie and Alice also raised awareness of those touched by homicide.
Peggy Hassett, who sister was murdered in Dunstable in 1983, and who has spoken in prisons around the state so inmates could hear about the impact of their crimes, said Arnie and Alice did something most people could not do when they reached out to help others despite their own pain.
She described them as “wounded healers.”
“Alice and Arnie Muscovitz are two of the bravest people I know,” Hassett said. “Meeting after meeting, they offered every parent a safe environment for each to share the sacred story of their child’s life and death. So many times I would sit and watch a meeting evolve and think how proud daughter, Karen, must be.”
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