Why this Peoria mother created a garden to provide solace to the victims of tragedy
When Jon Buckley was murdered in 2006, his mother Yolanda Wallace felt like there was nowhere for people like her, touched by tragedy in Peoria.
"If you want to go and have free speech, and you have something to say, you go down to Liberty Park. If you're a veteran and you served in a war, you can go down to Veterans Park. But if you're a homicide survivor, or you're an auto-related death survivor, there's no place in the city for us to go," she said.
That's why, two weeks after her son's death, Wallace began hosting prayer vigils at the site of every homicide, fatal car crash, or other tragedy. That outreach grew into the start of the Jon Buckley Memorial Garden behind the Peoria RiverPlex in 2012.
The small garden overlooking the Illinois River offers a serene place for survivors to reflect and find solace.
Wallace said it's not just a place named after her son, but a place to belong, and for the community to find tranquility together.
"We're stronger together than we are apart, and we need each other to survive," she said.
Wallace also hosts a support group every fourth Sunday of the month, and reminds people of the city's unsolved murders via the "Who Killed Me?" she distributes around town.
"I know that there's a thing out there that says that people are afraid to tell, there's this no snitching code and everybody wants to go on with life - until it happens to them. And I have run into many survivors that have been on this side of the fence," she said.
Wallace said just one murder has a wide ripple effect on their family, friends, and others who knew them.
"There's lots of people that just figure 'well, they were doing whatever they were doing; they ought to be dead,' you know, 'they were doing this, this, that,' but guess who's gonna pay for it? Their mothers, their families," she said.
Wallace said the grief of losing a child in a tragedy can break up families, or lead parents to an early death.
"I don't even know if we can heal it, but for those who have been through it, we definitely can reach back and try to help someone else to survive," she said.
Wallace said organizations like OSF Strive and the House of Hope are beginning to address the cycles of trauma, but it's not enough.
"I really think because of this trauma-birthing-trauma situation that we seem to be having, not just in Peoria, but across the nation, it seems to go on so much, that we're not able to handle it. Because I don't think we're equipped," she said.
Wallace said she wants the Jon Buckley Memorial Garden to be a part of it. The garden is maintained through the Peoria Park District. Donations can be sent to the Peoria Park District Foundation online or by mailing the Peoria Park District Foundation, 1125 W. Lake St., Peoria, IL, 61614 with attention to the Jon Buckley Memorial Garden.
Bricks for victims can also be purchased for installment in the garden.
"We need to get the word out that you're not alone, and that the Jon Buckley Memorial Garden is here, and that's what it's for," Wallace said.