The Justice Wire
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The Justice Wire

Profiles in Justice: Myra Maxwell

Myra Maxwell joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) in October 2018 as the Director of Philadelphia Crisis Assistance, Response and Engagement for Survivors program (CARES). Born in Texas and raised in West Philadelphia, Maxwell also serves as Pastor of Trinity United Methodist and vice president of the board of directors for Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR).

Maxwell’s experience in victim services and ministry dates back to 1995. Prior to joining the DAO, Maxwell served as the Faith Director and Transition Director of the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, aiding families of murder victims in the immediate aftermath of their loss as well as working with survivors of intimate partner violence.

Maxwell’s knowledge of the loss and trauma experienced by families of murder victims is deep and personal: she has lost multiple friends and family members to senseless violence, including her nephew.

“Not too long ago one of my neighbors was murdered,” Maxwell shares. “I am a survivor of childhood sexual violence and domestic violence. I have a passion for this work. The work is difficult and the journey is long.”

At the DAO, Maxwell has been instrumental in the creation and operation of Philadelphia CARES, a collaborative effort with the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office with grant funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Since 2018, CARES has been providing support and advocacy to the families of murder victims in Philadelphia.

All 16 CARES staff members have endured the trauma of losing a loved to violent crime, making them especially well-equipped to act as first responders for victims’ families.

“In the immediate aftermath [of a homicide], our staff know how to navigate the various agencies and can [alleviate] the level of trauma families experience,” Maxwell says.

The quick response is possible because of a close collaborative working relationship with the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), which notifies the CARES unit immediately after responding to the scene of a murder. CARES works with the PPD Victim Assistance Officer to locate and contact victims’ next of kin.

“We have a crisis responder that makes the initial phone call and another team member is ‘deployed’ and follows the family for another 45 to 60 days,” Maxwell explains. That 45- to 60-day time frame is critical for meeting the needs of co-victims. For situations in which there are multiple loved ones who have congregated at the scene, more than one CARES team member will be present.

“We have had up to 20 family members [at a time at one scene],” Maxwell says, adding that it is CARES responders’ responsibility to make sure the immediate needs of family members are met.

The CARES unit also serves co-victims by connecting them to resources like trauma-informed care providers — which has been additionally challenging since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When it is not possible to meet with co-victims in person, CARES staffers utilize phone and video technologies.

“We have not missed a family,” Maxwell adds.

CARES staff support and advocacy for co-victims extends beyond the initial mourning period, regardless of whether those responsible for the murder are arrested by law enforcement. “We make sure they know their rights, are aware about victims’ compensation and financial assistance for funeral services,” Maxwell says, adding that the DAO also connects families with food banks and helps with medical emergencies.

In talking about gun violence, Maxwell worries about a “lost generation” of children who suffer from untreated trauma compounded by poverty.

“What child should be used to hearing gunshots? Where’s the support?” she wonders. “By the time children become teenagers, they have found ways to mask the pain.”

Whether she’s responding to a crime scene, speaking to her congregation, or ministering to domestic abuse and sexual assault survivors, Maxwell’s mission is focused on healing and repair.

“The work is in me and it’s the work I’ve been called to do,” Maxwell says. “I preach about those things. I preach about [ending] sexual violence, and I tell survivors, this is not your shame and guilt.”

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Philadelphia DAO

Philadelphia DAO

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is committed to seeking fair and equal justice for 1.5 million residents, while upholding Constitutional rights.

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