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For Utah victims of violence, there's hope after darkness

Published October 15, 2013 2:11 pm

SLC leaders and advocates plant daffodils to raise awareness and give hope to survivors.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Janet Wagner thinks of new beginnings, such as her own, when she thinks of a daffodil.

Wagner was left with a lot of questions and not a lot of earthly answers after her daughter Heidy Wagner was shot and killed last year, allegedly by her daughter's husband. But she found guidance in her faith and a way to grieve and move forward by stepping out and talking about the impact of domestic violence.

People can make a difference, Wagner said Tuesday, standing outside the Public Safety Building in downtown Salt Lake City, surrounded by domestic-violence advocates and city leaders who announced their devotion to stopping the cycle and providing hope to survivors.

This week is the annual YWCA Week Without Violence, meant to draw attention to violence in the community. As a symbolic tradition, the group planted 495 daffodil bulbs on the south side of the Public Safety Building. The springtime flower can be a symbol of hope that represents a brighter future and a colorful reminder of how precious life is, said Keri Jones, YWCA Utah chief program officer.

Heidy Wagner, the youngest of eight children, loved dressing up as a Ninja Turtle and singing along to the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" cartoon's energetic opening theme. Donatello, the tech specialist, was her favorite.

"We all loved and cherished our baby," Wagner said, remembering her daughter's childhood. "Her vibrant beauty, amazing, expressive dark eyes [and smile] attracted people to her."

Near the end of last summer, Janet Wagner and her daughter went to the Dinosaur Museum at Thanksgiving Point to admire the prehistoric marvels, followed by a ride on the Sundance Tram and dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Provo. The day was an adventure — and the last time Janet Wagner saw her.

She still remembers the police officers walking up to her on her front lawn on Oct. 1, 2012. Her 25-year-old daughter had been shot to death inside her Orem home the night before.

Heidy Wagner's husband of three years, 31-year-old Conrad Mark Truman, was charged with murder and obstruction of justice in late July. Truman, who is being held in the Utah County Jail on $1 million bail, is due in court Oct. 28 for a scheduling hearing.

People have to grieve in their own way, Janet Wagner said, and becoming an activist has been a great help for her. She and her family organized an annual hike to memorialize Heidy Wagner, raise money for the YWCA Utah and give domestic-violence victims and their loved ones a sign that there is hope after tragedy.

At the first hike last September, the mother of Shaniel Donaldson (related to the Wagners through marriage) came and thanked Janet Wagner for inspiring her to be positive. Donaldson, 32, was killed by her husband at their Price home last February in a murder-suicide. Donaldson was Wagner's daughter-in-law's cousin.

"Domestic violence touches all of us. It doesn't discriminate," Jones said. One in four Utah women will be impacted by domestic violence at some point in their lives, according to the YWCA Utah. But everyone has the ability to make a difference in those lives, Jones said.

Organizers pick a new site every year — in 2012, it was Tracy Aviary — but they are considering returning to the Public Safety Building, which has plenty more ground to cover. The daffodils will remain in the dark for a while, but come spring, will live again.

The Week Without Violence concludes Saturday with a run co-sponsored by the police department and the YWCA Utah. The Race Against Violence 5Kstarts at Popperton Park (11th Avenue and Virginia Street) at 9 a.m., with proceeds benefiting the shelter and the Salt Lake City Police Foundation. For more information and to register, visit http://www.slcpf.org.

During his turn at the podium, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank acknowledged the ongoing national debate about gun rights. But when the debate focuses on who should and should not have access to guns, "we lose sight of the victims ... and that is a travesty," he said. "We can do better."

By a Salt Lake Tribune count, at least eight of the 21 fatal shootings this year (not counting officer-involved shootings) stemmed from domestic violence. Three of those were in Salt Lake City.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda