TIFTON -- A legal advocate for victims who seek assistance from Ruth's Cottage said she never dreamed until her daughter was murdered in 1993 that she would be assisting victims of domestic violence. Faye Spring believes that National Crime Victims' Rights Week April 18-24 is important for victims, survivors and public awareness.

Spring said her daughter, Rebecca "Becky" Smoak, then 36, had been divorced nine months from Keith Dwight Sifford when he pulled her across a parking lot by the hair before shooting her in the head with a 9mm revolver.

"He had been making threats for years," Spring said. "We didn't take it seriously, but we do now.

"He said it was an accident, but he stood over her and shot her at point-blank range."

Sifford is serving a life sentence for felony murder. But that isn't the end of the tragedy for Spring and her family. Smoak's daughter, now 19, is an honor student, but the effects of her mother's death are lasting. Also, Spring said she has been involved in efforts to keep her daughter's killer behind bars.

"When the first seven years passed and he was to be considered for parole, we petitioned with letters from all over the United States for the board not to release him," Spring said. "It never ends. It's like a ripple when you throw a stone across the water."

Spring said she worked at other domestic violence shelters before coming to Ruth's Cottage.

"I've tried to make something positive come out of this, but it has not been easy," she said. "I try not to be overbearing with my passion.

"I do get frustrated because the system isn't perfect, but it is the only system we have."

A candlelight vigil is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Turner County Civic Center. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Crime Victims Fund established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. The fund has provided more than $5.5 billion for victim assistance programs such at the one Mary Meeler operates for the four-county Tifton Judicial Circuit.

The fund offers a wide range of services to crime victims, and victim compensation that helps victims cope with the financial impact of crime. Federal criminal fines, forfeited appearance bonds and special assessments on federal convictions provides VOCA's funding. In Tift, Turner, Irwin and Worth counties, VOCA funds are used to pay medical, funeral and mental health counseling expenses, lost wages and crime scene clean-up for victims.

The public is invited to attend the vigil, which will include a release of balloons in honor of victims and their families, food and entertainment by the Lands Crossing band who will entertain with gospel and country songs. The band is led by Rex Johnson, who is resigning his post as South Georgia Drug Task Force Commander to devote more time to his ministry. L. Gale Buckner of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will be the keynote speaker.

"The vigil gives victims and survivors an opportunity to remember the ones that have been taken, especially the ones who have been murdered in such an horrendous manner. It is also important to bring about some awareness to the community," Spring said.

"We have to give voices to the people who are gone, like my daughter, because they can't speak for themselves. Back then, we didn't have some of the laws we have now and the legislation passed has now got some teeth in it."

Spring said stalking wasn't taken seriously until people like her daughter were murdered.

"All of this impacts a community as a whole, not just the family," Spring said. "People just have to make some noise."

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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