Survivors' stories

Aswad Thomas (Sacramento)

Aswad Thomas delivers a powerful message to crime survivors at the 2016 #SurvivorsSpeak Conference

At 26 years old, Aswad Thomas was three weeks away from a professional basketball career in Europe when the course of his life was changed forever. Aswad was shot twice in the back outside a convenience store in Hartford, Connecticut, on August 24, 2009 in an attempted robbery. Left with two collapsed lungs, temporary paralysis, a bullet in his spine, and little to no resources to help him recover, Aswad persevered and turned the anger and frustration from his attack into compassion that led him to get his MSW.

Now the National Organizer for Crime Survivors for Alliance for Safety and Justice, Aswad continues his journey towards healing by helping fellow survivors find their voice.

Aswad penned this op-ed for the Sacramento Bee leading up to the Californians for Safety and Justice Survivors Speak 2016 Conference.

He was also featured in the New Yorker about the changing face of the crime victim movement.


Adela Barajas (Los Angeles)

Adela holdling a picture of her sister n law, Laura

In 2007, Adela’s sister-in-law – a mother of four and a cherished member of the family – was killed in a random drive-by-shooting outside her Los Angeles home. Adela became a source of support for Laura’s children and went on to help individuals and communities affected by violence turn their experiences into more positive outcomes.

Adela (who speaks English and Spanish fluently) has appeared on CNN, local TV and radio news programs, and in the Los Angeles Times. She has also been a speaker at local and national conferences.

Adela’s op-ed emphasizing the need for crime prevention investments, rather than punitive ones, was published in the LA Daily News ahead of the Survivors Speak 2015 conference.

David Guizar (Los Angeles)

When David was 10 years old in 1983, his older brother – and idol – was murdered. No one told him what happened, and David struggled in his teen years with fear and anger about the loss. After decades of drug and alcohol addiction, David became clean and sober. Then in 2012, another brother was killed while attempting to stop a stranger from entering a wedding party. David helped his family navigate this ordeal and has developed first-hand expertise in what needs – often unmet or hard to meet – people have after experiencing trauma. He is now the volunteer Chair of the Leadership Team for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

David is featured in a piece by Al Jazeera America about the new victims movement our network is leading as we elevate the voices and priorities of those most often impacted by crime.

This KPCC feature breathes life into our Repeat Crime Victims in California Report by relating David’s story to the numbers.

Vicky Lindsey (Los Angeles)

In 1995, Vicky’s 19-year-old son was shot and killed while leaving a high school football game. His murderer was never caught. To prevent other parents from experiencing the same loss, Vicky runs Project Cry No More, a nonprofit that provides emotional support and information about “living through, not getting over” a loved one who has fallen victim to violence. She is a poet and has been interviewed by various news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times.


Vicky is featured in this Los Angeles Times photo essay.


Deldelp Medina (Bay Area)

In 2005, Deldelp’s family was rocked when her cousin murdered her aunt (his mother) after suffering a mental breakdown. Knowing their relative needed treatment for schizophrenia, the family became his defense team. They convinced the District Attorney to drop the death penalty and instead place the young man in a mental health facility, where he remains today.

Deldelp now works with survivors in the Bay Area. She speaks English and Spanish and has been interviewed by publications, local radio and numerous Spanish-language radio and TV programs.

Learn more about Deldelp’s story in her moving essay for the California Progress Report.

Ayoola Mitchell (Bay Area)

Ayoola comes from a law enforcement family and dedicated her life to working with people in the justice system. In 2009, her eldest son was shot 17 times in a case of mistaken identity. He survived, but just a year later, her stepson was shot and killed by a stranger following a verbal altercation. Ayoola now advocates for more resources for crime prevention and rehabilitation, noting the misplaced priorities in our approaches to crime and victims services.

The Bay Area News Group published an op-ed wrriten by Ayoola shortly after our Survivors Speak 2016 Conference.

Tom Rudderow (Bay Area)


In 2006, Tom was walking to the train station at night in San Leandro. Four young men pulled him off the sidewalk, beat him and took his belongings. He awoke from a coma days later and has struggled since with memory loss, headaches and dizziness. His attackers were caught, and the main instigator went to prison. Tom decided that forgiveness was the only way to make something meaningful out of the experience, and his letter to the young man changed both of their lives. Tom also passionately advocates for better trauma support for victims after a violent crime.

Tom shares the experiences he had following his attack and the severe lack of resources available to help him recover in this San Francisco Chronicle op-ed.

Sonya Shah (Bay Area)

At the age of 4, Sonya was sexually assaulted multiple times by a male caretaker. At age 23, what started as a normal night out with a male friend ended in rape. Both experiences traumatized Sonya but also inspired and informed her work to better understand the root causes of violence and the need for better forms of accountability and healing after a crime takes place. Sonya previously worked in public radio and television and has extensive experience speaking at conferences, public events, universities and in front of national and international bodies.

In a call for the passage of Prop 47 on Huffington Post, Sonya relates her struggles to those of the majority of crime survivors and how the need for crime prevention is as important as services for survivors.

Aqeela Sherrills (Los Angeles)

In 2004, Aqeela’s 18-year-old son was shot and killed by a stranger while home from college on winter break. The shooter mistook the young man’s Mickey Mouse sweater for representing gang colors. Aqeela turned this tragedy into a full-time effort to reduce violence and increase the healing opportunities for individuals and communities affected by violence. He is a regular speaker at community events and other venues and has extensive experience speaking with the media.

See a video about Aqeela here.

Aqeela highlighted the work of Trauma Recovery Centers and the true needs of crime survivors in his Huffington Post op-ed.

Kathy Young-Hood (Bay Area)

When Kathy’s son was shot and killed in 2004, she didn’t think she could go on. She considered suicide – regularly. But the help she received at San Francisco’s Trauma Recovery Center, which streamlines various victim services and focuses on the healing needed to rebound from traumatic crimes, gave her the strength and a purpose to go on. Today she is an eloquent speaker – in the media and at the Center – about the benefits of the trauma center model and other victim needs.

Kathy still sees members of her community going to prison for minor offenses and coming back worse; read why she and other crime survivors value rehabilitation over incarceration in this East Bay Times op-ed.

If you are a survivor of crime and have a story of your own you would like to share, please email us at



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