Tribute to crime victims in Kern County

A ceremony was held Wednesday to honor those in our community who have helped crime victims and their families seek justice and get their lives back on track.

This week is dedicated to those who fight for the rights of crime victims. On Wednesday, a ceremony was held to honor those in our community who have helped crime victims and their families seek justice and get their lives back on track.

It has been nearly two decades since Polly Klaas was kidnapped and murdered. It was a high profile case that shocked the nation. Her father, Mark Klaas, has dedicated his life to victims of crime, especially children, after his daughter was abducted from her bedroom in Petaluma 18 years ago.

"You don't always have to live in misery. You don't always have to live in grief. If you take advantage of the services offered by the system, at some point, you'll be able to smell the roses," said Klaas.

Klaas is talking about the police officers, detectives, social workers, who dedicate their lives to helping victims of violent crime.

"We see firsthand the anguish on the mother and father who have lost their son to a senseless shooting. Many of these are the unseen injuries that cannot be noted in a police report," said Chief Deputy Shelley Castaneda, Kern County Sheriff's Department.

Every year, the Kern County Probation Department honors the men and women who help guide people through the criminal justice system. People like Cynthia Langston, who is the mother of Ernest Kerr. Kerr was killed in 2007.

"I think about him every single day, every day. I even cry every night because I really do miss him," she said.

Law enforcement was credited for putting away 24-year-old Kerry Hastings, a known gang member, sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole. Hastings is responsible for the shooting death of Kerr and two other men, Anthony Daniels and Leonard Banks.

"I would like to recognize, honor, and thank the Banks family for their courage, their patience, and their trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system," said Cindy Zimmer of the Kern County District Attorney's Office.

While tribute was paid to the victims and their families, the Kern County Victim-Witness Program recognized nine others in law enforcement for their dedication to the families who still carry the burden of the crimes committed against their loved ones.

Awards went to the following public servants:

Greg Gause - Deputy Probation Officer

Cigi Yerena - Kern County Sheriff's Dispatcher

Damon Youngblood - Bakersfield Police Department Detective

Kristen Lawson - Ridgecrest Police Department Detective

Jason Balasis - Kern County Sheriff's Detective

Kavin Brewer - Kern County Sheriff's Detective

Dona Wood - Kern County Sheriff's Detective

Denise Gutierrez-Brown - Tehachapi Police Department

Anna Hackler - Social Services Worker, Department of Human Services

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