Omaha families hold onto hope at ‘Not Forgotten’ event amid loved ones’ cases going cold

Two doves and 100 balloons were released Saturday, honoring Omaha residents who lost their lives to homicide.
Published: Sep. 24, 2023 at 10:15 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Two doves and 100 balloons were released Saturday, honoring Omaha residents who lost their lives to homicide.

It was part of the third annual Gone But Not Forgotten Cold Case Awareness Month Family Day event that local group Families of the Stolen hosted at the Assembly of the Saints.

“We try to keep it celebratory because we prefer to celebrate the life that they lived versus living in the way they died,” said Buffy Bush, one of the event’s organizers. “Living in the tragedy, we can get lost in the darkness.”

Bush’s own sister, Jameila Hesseltine, was killed in 2011. Her case still has not been solved.

“It makes it even worse when there’s no justice because then we live our lives looking over our shoulders and wondering, ‘Could you be the killer?’ or ‘Maybe you’re the killer,’” Bush said.

Dozens of families of others who died violent deaths joined her Saturday. As Bush said, their cases may have gone cold, but that doesn’t change anything for those they left behind.

Just ask the family of Jasmine Harris, who was shot and killed in 2018.

“She kept our family together,” said her sister, Vanessa Wesson. “Ever since she left, it’s not the same.”

Nine-year-old Jay’Ceon Foster doesn’t have either of his parents. His mother, Ja’Kela Foster, was shot dead in 2015. The same happened to his father, Jarrell Haynes, in 2016.

“It’s really hard to go through, but you know how to get over it sometimes and you still just go through life,” Jay’Ceon said.

Saturday’s event helped raise their spirits.

“It shows us that we’re not the only one that’s hurting behind different cases like this,” Wesson said. “We have someone that we could always come to.”

In late August, Mayor Jean Stothert signed a proclamation declaring September Cold Case Awareness Month, which states that every September, the Omaha Police Department’s website will post 44 cold cases in hopes of getting new information on them.

“Our loved ones, our children that we have lost are not just on a shelf and just forgotten about,” said. Kristina Young, Ja’Kela Foster’s mother. “So it gives me some comfort to know that at least every September, this gets looked at.”

If you have any information on any of the cold cases featured on OPD’s website, police and Families of the Stolen ask you to come forward. To report that information, you can call or message the Omaha Police Cold Case Homicide Unit at (402) 444-5656 or send an email.