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Remembering the Victims

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A remembrance ceremony was recently held at the Hernando County Courthouse to honor the fallen victims of homicide. It was an emotional day as nearly every one of the 50-plus people on hand had experienced their own stories of tragedy. The ceremony was able to be organized thanks to State Attorney Bill Gladson’s office and began with a welcome from Division Chief Conrad Juergensmeyer.

Following the brief opening, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard presented the colors for all victims whose lives were cut tragically short. Local high school students Alexis Badiukiewicz and Shaw Garrett then led the gathering in reciting the pledge of allegiance before speaker and survivor Silvana Altieri took to the podium to discuss her late husband, Michael.

“He would have done anything to make me happy,” Silvana said. “He worked long hours so that I could stay at home with our children, and any hours that he did have that he was not working, he would spend with his entire family […] He was selfless. He lived and he died for his family.”

Michael was a loving and kind-hearted man and “even knowing how it ended, [she] would still choose to marry Michael all over again.” He and Silvana enjoyed a wonderful marriage before tragedy struck nearly 23 years ago. On December 11, 2001, 17 minutes would change Silvana and her family’s lives forever.

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Around 1:00 in the morning, “the devil came knocking on my door,” she said. A neighbor who had moved in months prior showed up saying they had been in a car accident. The assailant then took advantage of Michael’s selflessness as they took the husband’s life and abducted the couple’s 12-year-old daughter after Michael unlocked the front door.

Silvana is “eternally grateful” to the sheriff’s office for responding as quickly as they did. If they had not, she feels things could have ended far worse. Instead, Silvana and her daughters were rescued, and the state attorney’s office has provided critical support over the last two decades since the attack. Mary Johnston and the rest of the staff were invaluable in helping the widowed mother feel
heard.

It is easy to feel alone during such hardships and Altieri has still felt alone many times since her husband’s passing. Silvana urges people to take advantage of resources like the state attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office, and support groups.

“It is so important for us as victims and survivors to know we are not in this by ourselves,” said Altieri. “Even after 23 years, we have never ever been forgotten, Michael will never be forgotten, your loved ones will never be forgotten.”

After Silvana told her story of survival, there was a presentation remembering the fallen family members of those who were in attendance and a candle was lit in the memory of each loved one. Following the singing of “Scars in Heaven,” John Mitten of Hernando County’s Chick-Fil-A performed a benediction for those who have been lost. Mitten lifted a prayer to God to ease the pain of the families who were suffering before Chief Juergensmeyer concluded and adjourned the meeting.

“Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day,” pamphlets at the ceremony quoted author Alex MacLean. “Unseen, unheard, but always near, still loved, still missed, and very dear.”

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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