HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Families, local leaders, law enforcement officers and community members gathered at the Henrico County Western Government Center on Tuesday night to honor the memory of homicide victims.

According to the Henrico County Victim/Witness Assistance Program, in its 31st year, approximately 300 families were invited to attend the annual Candlelight and Ribbon Tying Ceremony.

“It’s an opportunity to reflect — for the families to reflect on loved ones that have been lost in the county,” Henrico County Police Chief Eric English said. “Unfortunately, there are too many lives that have been lost to violence in our counties and across the country.”

According to data from the Henrico County Police Department (HCPD), there have been 23 homicide reports so far in 2021, with 24 homicide victims. That’s compared with 15 for all of 2020, and seven for all of 2019.

“I’ve been in this business for 32 years, and so I’ve seen a lot of violence and a lot of families that have been heartbroken because they’ve lost a loved one to senseless violence, things that didn’t have to happen,” English said. “Especially around the holiday time, it’s very difficult to see families having to go through that when there could’ve been things that would’ve prevented this from occurring.”

One such family was that of Vanessa Zaman, who was killed in nearly three years ago. Her mother, Saveeta Barnes, spoke at the vigil.

“I know what it is to lose a loved one, and I feel all your pain,” Barnes said. “I’ll tell you that it gets easier. It gets a little better. You don’t heal 100%. But have faith in God and have faith in humanity.”

Vanessa’s father, Abdool Z. Zaman, was accused of fatally shooting her and his niece, Leona Samlall, at a Highland Springs apartment complex on Dec. 13, 2018. He was indicted on two capital murder charges. But, in Dec. 2019, authorities confirmed to 8News that Zaman died by suspected suicide inside a county jail.

“As a parent, you can only protect them but so much, right? I’ve had the guilt of saying, ‘What could’ve I done better to keep her home?'” Barnes said. “The killing, the violence — I just don’t get it.”

In addition to photo displays with images of the individuals who have been killed over the years in Henrico County, ornaments with their names on them were hung on a tree at the government center. The ornaments included the names of Lucia Bremer and Captain Don Lambert.

According to Chief English, the increase in violence in 2021 has stemmed from domestic violence issues and problems resolving conflict, especially among young people.

“We’ve seen an extreme uptick in gun violence, some of our areas in the county. We got to find ways in order to help our youth be able to resolve conflict without resorting to using violence against one another,” he said. “Eleven of our homicides we’ve had this year have had some type of domestic nexus to them, and so that has created a lot of issues for us.”

When asked what was being done to combat this violence, Chief English said that the police department has been holding regular meetings with Henrico County Public Schools and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, in an effort to connect with the county’s young residents at an earlier age.

“We’re meeting every couple of weeks, just to kind of discuss some of the issues that we’re seeing — not only in our schools, but [also] what’s festering in communities, brining it into schools — so we can see what we can do in order to try to resolve some of those issues and get people the help that they may need,” English told 8News. “Make those connections and try to change mentality, and hopefully, you can curtail some of the violence that we’re seeing with our youth.”

Correction 12/14/2021: A previous version article included an incorrect number for homicide reports and victims. That information has been corrected.