An obit for every homicide victim

If an obituary is the last measure of respect offered to someone who died, then homicide victims often leave this world dishonored. Cletus Lyman, a Philadelphia lawyer, grew up in Hazleton, Pa., where everyone, from baker to banker, it seemed, got an obituary in the local paper, regardless of how they lived or died.

That’s not always the case for people whose sudden, violent deaths are often reduced to passing mentions in the news with few, if any, details.
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There were many times when Lyman would read about someone being shot and killed in Philadelphia and wonder who they were, what impact their death left on those who loved them. But he’d rarely find an answer.

That bothered the 72-year-old constitutional lawyer. It bothers me, too, but in a city with upward of 293 homicides so far this year and ever-shrinking numbers of journalists to bear witness, it feels like there’s barely enough time to gather the details about one victim before there’s a slew of others.

But what to do, right? Isn’t that where we often seem to land with realities we may not like, but that we grow accustomed to? I’ve generously called it the Philly Shrug.

Not satisfied to just shrug off his discomfort, Lyman decided to start and fund the Philadelphia Obituary Project, a website that honor victims with stories about their lives, not their deaths.In the process, Lyman and his team hopes “to show the public that we are losing members of our community, that these are not just statistics but real people with lives worth marking.”