TPD's Victim Advocate Unit recognized with statewide award

By: Alicia Turner | WCTV Eyewitness News
April 15, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- It’s been six months since the shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee. Last week, the people who helped in the aftermath received a statewide honor.

The Tallahassee Police Department's Victim Advocate Unit received the Distinguished Victim's Service Award from the Attorney General’s Office.

Whether it's a scene riddled with crime scene tape and flashing blue lights, or a family in shock that something traumatic has happened to their loved ones, first responders are the ones heading in when everyone else is heading out.

"We try to be like the calm in the chaos,” said Annalese Wierenga, a TPD victims' advocate.

The word first responder extends beyond firefighters and police. It's also those who advocate for the victims in their time of need.

“I think in light of what the victims go through, this is something that's a benefit to them and to the community,” Annalese said.

The Distinguished Victim’s Service Award is a direct reflection of the unit's response to the shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee. Two people were killed that day, including Jeff Binkley's daughter, Maura.

"They showed not only the highest degree of professionalism, but the most humane professional touch," Jeff said.

Jeff explained that prior to the shooting, he, like most, had never come in contact with a victims' advocate. He said their compassion made all the difference for he and his family.

"It was our contact to the department, and also an element of support that no one else could give," said Jeff.

"There's never one protocol to how you do stuff. You just meet people where they are and then help them in what they need in those moments,” said Sara Latorre.

Many people the advocates encounter meet under circumstances they never would imagine. The advocates say while they can’t change what happened, they can help victims move toward the future.

"We'll never forget what they did," Jeff said.

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