EL PASO COUNTY — Tragedy happens far too often, and when it does, people are left picking up the pieces of a life forever changed. However, there are people available to help victims, from the moment a crime occurs.
Law enforcement agencies have Victim Advocacy Units, along with the 4th Judicial District. Victim Advocates for the district attorney's office take over cases when charges are filed, and support a victim or their families as the criminal justice system runs its course. "For a lot of our victims, it's their first time in the court system. The court system's overwhelming, it can be frightening, and it's a slow process," said Coyette Hanson, a manager with the Victim Advocate Team.
Victim Advocates accompany individuals inside the courtroom and keep victims updated on the legal process. Advocates let victims know what they can expect. They want to help ease any stress or anxiety, and are there for both the triumphs and the setbacks of a case. "We don't want you to feel alone. We know it takes a lot of courage to come forward and go through the process, and we want to be there with you... It's an honor to have somebody's trust," said Hanson.
Currently, there are 13 Victim Advocates for the 4th Judicial District in El Paso County. Hanson said they always are in need of more advocates because the cases keep coming in, unfortunately.
Teller County has their own Victim Advocate program.
One of the advocates in El Paso County is Kimberly Sorrels. Sorrels has been an advocate for 14 years, and said homicide cases are typically the most difficult ones since they last the longest. "You see people at their worst, the worst possible thing that could happen to someone, and you're meeting them in that place... It's painful to watch someone go through that journey, and at the same time it's rewarding. Because I see such amazing strength come out of people in their worst possible moments. So for me, they help me as much as I help them, if not more," said Sorrels.
Sorrels said she has learned so much from the victims she has worked with in the past. "I definitely have teared up with victims when they have broken down, from watching something in court up on the screen or through their own testimony. Seeing them just completely let go of their emotions... Your courage and your strength was inspiring, and I take that with me every day as I pick up a new case and I see that same or similar strength in somebody else. And I just encourage them that there will be life after this, and it'll be a journey, but you can do it. And I'll be there, to support you," said Sorrels.
The Victim Advocacy Unit also ensures individuals know how to apply for compensation for things like medical bills, lost wages, or funeral costs.