'Tragedy found us': Camp Sheilah helps families of murder victims heal from horrendous memories

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Often after a murder, the families of the victims are left to cope with horrendous memories. Those memories can leave lasting scars, especially on the youngest family members.

However, one camp is trying to help ease that pain.

It was in 2012 when Grace Gonzales' husband Beto was killed by intruders who broke into their Crest Hill home. Their 8-year-old daughter Sofia was hiding in a front closet.

"I remember remaining in that closet and waiting for my mom, thinking 'what's happening?' Because when you're that young you can't process trauma," Sophia recalled.

"So when she comes out and I see her, I told her to sit down and I tell her that he had passed," Grace said. "She let out a scream that I will never forget. The hurt."

Grace spent years looking for a way to help her daughter process her father's violent murder and eventually found Camp Sheilah, founded by Kevin Doyle and his family.

"I remember when this happened to me," said Doyle with the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation.

In 1993 Doyle's mother Sheilah was found murdered in her Palos Park garage.

"I remember walking down the hallways of Carl Sandburg High School and literally the first day I came back to school, it was 'hey, that's the kid whose mom was murdered,'" Doyle said.

That feeling of helplessness and isolation prompted his family to start Camp Sheilah, in honor of their mother, to give much-needed support and direction to other children of murder victims with the understanding that's often difficult to find.

"When you speak in our world and you tell them how your loved one passed, it was an act of violence or murder, right away you get a sense of 'oh,' you know? It's taboo with that word," Grace said.

"When you don't talk about it, it turns into things like violence," Doyle said. "It turns into things like drugs. It turns into things like alcohol and bad grades. All the things you don't want. That's not how life was supposed to be."

Grace and Sofia said being around people who've also suffered the same tragedies has made all the difference in their lives.

"Automatically you have a community with them because you've both felt that like deep pain," Sophia said. "It's not something that defines who I am. It's more something that happened to me. I'm going grow from it and continue to grow with the help of Camp Sheilah."

The Sheilah Doyle Foundation has partnered with the non-profit "Kids Above All" to operate the camp virtually during the pandemic. As for Sofia, she plans to study psychology to help other young people whose loved ones have been murdered.
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