When Lisa Cosenza, 51, and her boyfriend Douglas Ferguson, 59, were shot and killed in their Aliso Viejo home, they weren’t the only victims.
Their family, left grieving, are victims too.
The Superhero 5K Run/Walk and Health & Safety Expo is held for victims such as Cosenza and Ferguson and their surviving loved ones.
Formerly called the Crime Survivors Annual Survive & Thrive 5K Run/Walk, the 15th annual event, which took place April 13 at Mason Park in Irvine, served as a fundraiser and awareness campaign for Crime Survivors, a Santa Ana nonprofit that provides an array of services to victims of violent crimes and their loved ones.
Paula and Rick Cosenza, Lisa’s parents, attended their first Superhero event this year. They were among a group of crime survivors in attendance.
“A child should never die before their parents, especially in a violent manner,” Rick Cosenza said. “We are all here for our own personal reasons. We all have been affected in some way because this has happened to a family member, friend or even ourselves. We all have experienced very dark days … but we can’t let those feelings rule our lives or take them over.”
That is the message that victims’ advocate and Crime Survivors founder Patricia Wenskunas wants to send out: victims can transform themselves into survivors.
The cause is personal for Wenskunas, who survived attempted murder and was bound and beaten in her home by a personal trainer on April 4, 2002.
She managed to escape from her attacker and get help.
Frustrated with a criminal justice system that seemed to offer little support for the crime victims, Wenskunas started Crime Survivors.
Continuing to live in hatred, pain, and fear allows the offenders to win, Wenskunas said.
“I promised God on April 4, 2002, that I would use my voice, that I would live and sacrifice my entire being to be able to help other victims of violent crime, to be able to know that they may have been victimized, but they are survivors who can thrive. They don’t have to be defined by the crime and they can have help and healing in their hearts and in their souls.”
Wenskunas created the superhero theme this year to attract more families and to showcase Crime Survivors’ partnerships with law enforcement, first responders, and service providers.
Some runners and walkers even donned superhero costumes.
Crime Survivors board member Janet Wilson-Irving gave her own definition of a superhero.
“I believe a superhero is someone who lives their life understanding the importance of gratitude. Gratitude not only makes our life sweeter, but it re-directs our minds towards positivity, fighting off the evil powers of negativity,” Irving said. “It allows us to ability to truly experience joy and happiness no matter what our circumstances are.”
Prior to the start of the 5K, survivors and family members released doves one at a time, symbolizing the transformation of victim to survivor.
Law enforcement officials on hand included Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel, and OC Probation Chief Steve Sentman.
“My overarching message to members of my organization and the community we serve is that victims must always come first,” Hamel said. “As members of the law enforcement community, we must understand our unique responsibilities as first responders and must have a conscious awareness of whatever our victims experience in the moment. Whatever we say, how we treat them… they will remember that forever.”
Along with a 5K, the event featured vendors offering victims’ resources, along with family friendly festivities such as a free pancake breakfast, face painting, crafts, entertainment, jump houses, and balloon art.
A second Superhero 5K Run/Walk takes place April 27 at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas.
Visit www.crimesurvivors.org if you or someone you know is in need of help or would like to support the Crime Survivors mission.