April 11, 2011
The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS — “My mind was racing … this couldn’t be happening to me, I didn’t deserve it, I’m a good person,” Melissa Diggins said, recalling the night she was attacked and kidnapped from the streets of Saratoga Springs. On Sunday she spoke to a room of people who were familiar with the feelings she described.

Diggins was forcibly abducted on July 23, 2009. Knocked nearly unconscious with a pistol and dragged into a van, Diggins said she felt fear and sadness the night it happened. “Fear for my life,” she said, on the brink of tears. “And sadness in thinking of all the people I loved so much if I didn’t get out of that van.”

The 25-year-old was a speaker at Sunday’s 12th annual Candlelight Vigil for Victims of Crime, part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

As a lit candle from the front of the room was passed around to the wicks held by audience members — each person lighting the candle of the person sitting next to them — a microphone was also passed around the room to people who invoked the memories of victims they knew. They dedicated their flames to the memories of their loved ones — drunken driving victims, people who were murdered or were victims of domestic violence — many struggling through tears to do so.

“My son, Nick, was a victim of a drunk driving crash,” said Cathi Barbaro, sobbing along with many members of the audience.

Nicholas Matthew Barbaro, 22, was one of the 443 names of victims of DWI, homicide, rape, domestic violence and assault listed on a scroll. When unwound, the scroll stretched the length of the aisle at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church.

“This is painful, but not as painful as not having Nick here,” Barbaro said. “It’s difficult to come here and be heard, but I think it’s important.”

Barbaro’s name is also part of an exhibit — Broken Hearts: Forever a Life Sentence — that will be brought to local high schools. The exhibit has pictures of the victims of drunken drivers and their stories. It was designed to promote teen driver safety and preserve memories of the victims.

“Maybe it will make an important impact on someone,” Barbaro said.

Tina Stanford, director of the New York State Office of Victim Services, said it is important “to come together and remember the beautiful lives of those we’ve lost,” and she said the people in the church should be proud to live in a community that is “part of a larger family that cares for one another.”

“We are all blessed to live in this kind of community,” she said.

Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III said it is important to recognize the victims of crime — something that does not always happen. He noted the “dark ages of crime victims’ rights,” when victims were not included in the cases against their attackers and when domestic violence was “a family matter” that people only whispered about.

“It’s important for victims of domestic violence to come forward and to speak about what is happening to them,” he said, “to empower that particular victim and other victims who are out there.”

He said events such as Sunday’s are particularly important to him and to people in his office: “For us, it really gives us a re-energizing — a recommitment and a renewal to recommit ourselves to the victims of crime. To say we will do our best,” he said. “When we look at that file on our desk … we know that in each of those cases there are individual victims whose lives matter.”

Two years ago, Diggins fought back. She thought to herself “not me, not now” and managed to jump from the vehicle after being forced to undress. When she landed on the pavement, naked in the middle of the road, she saw a car coming and said she thought it was her savior, but the car just drove around her.

Diggins implored the crowd on Sunday night not to be that person.

“When faced with a situation where you have a chance to do something great for someone else, please take it — it could be your mother, daughter, sister, friend or girlfriend who gets passed by in the street, and they may not be as lucky as I was,” she said, crying, calling it an “emotionally spirit-breaking experience.”

She offered her thoughts and prayers to all of the people in the crowd who were victims, or who were there for victims.

“Let’s choose to stand up for ourselves and for those who can’t stand up for themselves,” she said.