Homicide Victims Are Remembered as People, Not Names, Through Philadelphia Obituary Project

Two mothers of murdered young people told NBC10 about the therapeutic power of the ongoing project.

From the start of 2016 through April 2018, there were 679 homicides in Philadelphia. Many of them only received attention through short mentions on the evening news or briefs in the local papers. 

One of those slain was Trina Singleton’s son, Darryl. He was killed outside of his grandmother’s home in Southwest Philadelphia just one day before his 25th birthday.

“From sunup to sundown on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, shootings were happening all over Philadelphia,” Singleton said. “Darryl was, ‘Man, 24, Shot.’ No suspects or motive or follow-up story.”

Darryl’s death was a brief in the newspaper, part of a roundup of 10 separate shootings that day, she said.

No one yet has been charged with his murder. A change of detectives on the case hasn't helped solve the crime, Trina Singleton said.

But Darryl's case and dozens of others are now receiving much-needed awareness.

A website called the Philadelphia Obituary Project is dedicated to shedding light on slayings that previously received little coverage. Attorney Cletus Lyman, along with Albert Stumm, a former editor at the Philadelphia Daily News, and two reporters created the site as a digital memorial.

Since 2016 more than 430 obituaries have been created for the website. Each obituary is sorted by the year and month each respective victim was killed. 
All obituaries are also featured on a homicide map which shows exactly where the victims was when he or she died.

More than 430 obituaries have been created for the website since its creation in 2016. Obituaries on the site can be sorted by the year and month each respective victim was killed. 

All obituaries are also featured on a homicide map that shows exactly where each victim was when he or she died. 

Annie Coulter lost her daughter, Caitlin Jaje, when someone killed the young woman and her boyfriend inside their South Philadelphia home in August 2017. She said though the 23-year-old had struggled with a drug problem in her youth, Caitlin was working to become a peer counselor.

“She wanted to help other [people] through the situation she had been through,” Coulter said.

When Caitlin was murdered, there were three brief stories that mentioned her. Only one included her full name.

“The first story just had, ‘Girl, 23, murdered,’ Coulter said. “Then it moved forward to a Cait with no last name. Then, the third story finally had her last name and that was it. After the first 48 hours, there was nothing else.”

People have a tendency to only pay attention to the details of how someone died and what they were doing before they were killed, Stumm said.

“We’re not in the position to judge people,” Stumm said, noting that the project highlights the person's life rather than the circumstances of their death.

Since its launch in June 2016, the Philadelphia Obituary Project has given many families of homicide victims the chance to provide a legacy for those killed.

Lyman said the idea came to him when he realized how many people have been affected by homicide in the city. He has funded the project.

"When I was growing up, everybody seemed to get an obituary," Lyman said. "Now, it seems kind of disrespectful that so many people go unnoticed."

"In the beginning, people were skeptical because it’s a different kind of story," he added.

The obituaries are investigated and written by reporters Taylor Farnsworth and Jen Lawson. According to Stumm, each reporter receives a list of homicides from the city’s police department every month for potential story leads. They also scour for information from Philadelphia’s major news outlets. He said they have also been developing their own contacts within the community.

"By telling these stories, we are telling the life of these people, not just their names," Stumm said. "And maybe it will make someone think twice about pulling the trigger."

Contact Us