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Alabama mom decorates yard to honor young slaying victims

November 23, 2018

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — It’s a chilly fall morning in north Huntsville as Donna Howell emerges from her front door.

“These are my babies,” she says, motioning toward the pumpkins in her front yard. The pumpkins display photos of the “Huntsville Angels” — children, teens and other young people who have died in local homicides.

Birds chirp and a distant train roars as Howell points to the pictures one by one, reciting each victim’s name. Howell knows their names, faces and stories — not just the stories of their deaths. She knows their families, what their hobbies were.

“Look at all the dreams that will never be reached,” Howell said. “Most of these kids didn’t even get a chance to go to a prom or walk across a stage to graduate.”

Howell’s own son is memorialized by a special garden in the yard. Larry Flaccamio, 16, was shot in the back of the head as he walked in the neighborhood on the evening of Dec. 30, 2014. His case remains unsolved.

“Somebody knows what happened to my son,” Howell said.

Huntsville police Lt. Michael Johnson said the investigation into Larry’s death is still open.

“We need somebody to give us a name,” Johnson said. “Investigators collected physical evidence at the scene, but they need a witness to build the case.”

Anyone with information is asked to call investigators at 256-427-7270. Anonymous tips can be submitted online to Huntsville Area Crime Stoppers.

Each year during the holiday season, Howell decorates her yard with photos of the Huntsville Angels so their memories don’t fade. She wants the community to remember the victims — and their grieving families, many of whom haven’t gotten justice.

A driver cranes his neck, glancing at the garden as his vehicle cruises past Howell’s home.

“I’m hoping Huntsville sees this and how fast it’s growing,” Howell said. “When I started, there were probably 10 or 15. The murder rate just goes up. The violence has to stop.”

So far in 2018, at least 27 people have been slain in Huntsville homicides. In 2017, 22 people died in homicides citywide.

This year, six of the victims were teenagers or children. Suspects are charged in each of those cases. The youngest was Livia Robinson, a 3-year-old who died in a drive-by shooting at her north Huntsville home in March.

Livia’s mother, Meme McComb, finds comfort in seeing her daughter’s picture displayed in Howell’s yard.

“Even when nobody else is keeping their memories alive, Donna is,” McComb said. “When my tragedy happened, Donna is the reason I stayed sane. She’s been there for me.”

In 2015 — the year after Larry’s death — Howell started the garden.

Among the faces displayed in the garden is James Townsend. He was 15 years old when he died in a 2017 shooting at a north Huntsville Taco Bell restaurant. His mother’s eyes welled with tears as she sat in Howell’s living room recently and talked about her son.

Rochelle Townsend said she’s thankful for Howell and other community members who supported their family in the aftermath of the murder. Howell arrived at the funeral services with an envelope of money to help pay for the burial. Like she does for other families, Howell also made memorial shirts for the Townsends.

“It really does mean a lot,” Rochelle Townsend said. “Losing a child really does make you want to do for others.”

After Larry’s death, Howell started the Larry Flaccamio Foundation, an organization to help other families of homicide victims or at-risk youth.

Howell encourages homicide survivors to help others. Helping others helps with the grief process, she said. That’s why each year during the holidays, she makes gifts for other mothers who lost their children. This year, she’s making puzzles with pictures of their children. In the past, she’s made coffee cups and candles.

“These are all families that have just been devastated,” she said.

Howell said there’s no pain as unbearable as losing a child.

“Our children were given the death penalty with no judge or jury,” Howell said. “And we were given a life sentence with no chance of parole.”

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