Victims Turned Advocates For Change: Elaine and Gordon Rondeau
From the outset of the brutal murder of our daughter, Renee Olubunmi Rondeau, we immediately became involved in the critical process of solutions to the plight of victims.
We had no idea as to the depth and breadth of crime in this nation until the horror of the murder of our daughter Renee. Over the years, we were very aware of homicides and other brutal crimes such as rape, kidnapping, and child molestation because of the news media that chooses to sensationalize a few of these because of their requirements to make the crime worthy of printing: of short duration and sensational!
We first became aware of the hurt that homicide caused us personally in 1982, when our very dear friend, Dr. Yoasi Mushala, Professor of Psychology at Howard University in Washington, D.C., devoted husband and father of 8 children, ages 1 to 14, whom he had brought from his native Tanzania, was shot by two recidivist criminals, recently released on parole. The two perpetrators had purchased a sawed-off shotgun, went to Dr. Mushala’s restaurant (which he had opened to earn extra funds to raise his large family) and shot him in cold blood!
Ever since that time, we were aware of the devastation, but again, the media only presented crime as entertainment, such as the presentation of the murderer O.J. Simpson, the mysterious murder of Jon Benet Ramsey, the Charles Manson murders and others. We became very sensitive to the fact that most Americans seemed to look forward to these murders as entertainment and did not realize the serious nature and number of crimes in this nation.
Long before our Renee was murdered, we became involved in solutions to the root causes of crime and violence. In Atlanta, Georgia, we became involved with former President Jimmy Carter’s Atlanta Project in which 20 neighborhoods were targeted for assistance in all aspects of healthful living. That was back in the time frame of 1994 to 1996.
Gordon became involved in the initiation of Midnight Basketball here in Atlanta, working diligently to establish that program for education and sports for wayward youth. In addition to that, Gordon served as a volunteer for UTOA, which is the Urban Training Organization of Atlanta and served on their Board of Directors.
Elaine supported these efforts and contributed her time to assisting with press releases and supporting meetings. These were successful for their time, but have not been sustainable for various reasons, such as lack of funds and people ” too busy to care.”
We are telling you about these efforts to serve our community because it gave us much more strength in the murder of our daughter. And then, even after all of these efforts to help to improve our communities here in Georgia, the striking blow that has devastated us and our family forever! The murder of our Renee Olubunmi Rondeau, a citizen of the world!
In Chicago, we marched the streets with Renee’s friends, posting reward posters, holding rallies, memorial services, meeting with the police chief of Chicago and police commissioner, meeting with Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, initiating a campaign called Letters to Leaders to inform them of the toll that crime takes.
We cited over and over again, that this was not only a Renee problem, this was a human problem.
It was a long and arduous journey to press the police to continue the investigation. They, in fact, closed the case after 12 weeks and when Elaine asked them why, they said, ” too many other murders to solve.” That is when Elaine and Gordon called upon the Honorable Newt Gingrich to assist.
While all of the above was going on, we were simultaneously initiating programs here in Georgia. We became friendly with the media, helping to educate them on how to present crimes in a way that would impress the general American public to action for solutions.
One of the first initiatives that we achieved was to create the organization, Action Americans, Murder Must End Now! (AAMMEN!) and establish a memorial scholarship fund in her name at Augusta College, Augusta, Georgia, which she had attended for two years, before her graduation from the University of Southern California. The scholarship fund is in the Department of Sociology, Criminal Justice, and Social Work and has been there for the past 20 years. Upon request, we lecture to the students there about criminal justice reform, victims rights and other related subjects to the cause of criminal justice.
When we learned that one of the murderers of our Renee was a parolee, who had been remanded from the state of Michigan to the state of Illinois, who should never have been paroled because of lack of rehabilitation on the part of the prison system, we took action here in Georgia. We also learned that the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles had been releasing thousands of felons on parole!
We began a campaign, putting up a gigantic billboard on Highway 75, with the words, “Parole, is it killing us.” This caught the attention of the Director of Pardons and Paroles and many changes were instituted, such as a victim review board. The billboard campaign got the attention of Judges, District Attorneys, Assistant District Attorneys, college professors, survivors of victims of crime and we Rondeaus established a series of meetings with local businesses called Community Cares. This led to many victims receiving the attention that they required. A movement had begun within the state.
One of the first meetings that we attended after the murder of our Renee, was with CVAC, the Crime Victims Advocacy Council of Georgia, meeting Dr. Bruce Cook, attending their meetings, sometimes speaking at them and attending the annual Memorial Service. They were of great assistance to us in our time of grief and we continue to work with them.
As we reached out to victims of crime and the community, we were requested to serve as the National Victim Outreach Coordinators for the national organization – Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, where we reached out to survivors of homicide all over the United States who agreed to speak out about the root causes of the homicide that had been committed against their loved one!
This also led to our being requested to serve on the Board of Advisors of the National Crime Victim Report, which we did for eight years, submitting articles that we wrote about survivors of victims of homicide and their efforts for healing, victims’ rights, and crime prevention. There are so many other aspects of our work for victims rights. We also served as the Georgia State Coordinators for Force 100, the national effort to put an enforceable Victims Rights Bill into the U.S. Constitution.
The most rewarding aspect of our work with victims’ rights was when we initiated the movement here in Georgia to improve the existing Georgia law on victims’ rights. We have mentioned that, after two years of our working on this, with an excellent committee, it was passed into law on May 10, 2010. Many fine survivors served on the committee such as CVAC, MADD, the Cobb County DA’s office and our representative from Cobb County, Don Parsons.
We were so very disappointed that the effort from 2008-2010 did not fulfill the dreams of victims to have an enforceable law in the Georgia State Constitution. But here we are today! Happily serving with other survivors and victims, with a group of dedicated members of the Marsy’s Law team! We reached out to Marsy’s Law for Georgia State Director Ann Casas when we learned of the recent effort here in Georgia and have worked this past year, 2016, reaching out to legislators, along with others, and testifying before the Georgia Judiciary Committee.
We will continue to support these initiatives in the name of all victims and survivors.
We continue our work with victim advocacy and we shall always hope for a better time, where crime prevention is the number one goal.
So with hope in our hearts and the courage to face the challenge of establishing Marsy’s Law here in Georgia, we remain your loyal friends!
Elaine and Gordon Rondeau