Baker – the guide for the journey

vigil cindy

By Traci Chapman

Cindy Baker is always there – with a hug, a smile, a tissue, kind words.

She is there at the worst of times, bringing help and hope to families who have been suddenly thrust into an unknown world, a parallel universe where someone they love has been the victim of a violent crime. It doesn’t matter if it’s rape, domestic abuse, murder – to  Baker, they are all the same and they are something to be tackled with love and understanding.

“I want to thank this (district attorney’s) office, I want to thank Cindy Baker – I don’t know what we would have done without her through this time,” said Anita Gibbins, whose sister, Amy, and nephew, Bryor, were killed last June.

It’s a sentiment echoed by many of the people who have walked through Canadian County district attorney’s office doors, when they met more than the people who would work to convict the person responsible for their loss. It was there they met Baker, the longtime victim coordinator assistant. Over the years she would become a friend and guide through a painful part of their lives. It’s a job, but it’s so much more to her, District Attorney Michael Fields said.

“She’s someone special, you watch her with the victims and you know how much she cares about them,” he said.

Baker attends countless hearings, takes never-ending phone calls, but it’s at the office’s annual candlelight vigil where she really shines, officials say. It’s an opportunity for victims and their families to come together – to mourn, to support each other, to look for answers, and hopefully, to find some peace, even if it’s just for a bit, Baker said.

“It’s something that’s come to mean as much to me as it has to the families,” Baker said last year. “There’s so much we want to do for them.”

And do for them she has, as was evidenced by the people who stood up during Monday’s vigil to thank her – and the rest of the DA’s staff – for their help. Beyond justice for their loved ones, Baker and the others have offered at least a beacon of light for them, much as the candles mark the conclusion of each annual vigil.

This year was different for the woman who organizes each year an event for others. While not a victim of violent crime, Baker’s world was shaken recently when her 16-year-old grandson, Karson, was killed in an automobile accident. She shares in their loss while remembering her own, still a beacon for them through her own tears, Fields said.

“I thought this might be hard for her, but I also think it might help Cindy with some healing as well,” he said.

Baker honors Karson and his memory every day, in the way she helps others, her co-workers say. It’s a scenario where a job was truly created just for one person.

Years ago, Baker said she felt blessed by God to have the position she holds. Now heading toward her 20th year in the victim coordinator position, she is known for her caring and compassion by victims, her co-workers and beyond. In 2012, she was named Outstanding Victim Witness Services Employee of the Year by the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association.

“Cindy is very deserving of this award,” Fields said at the time. “In my mind, she epitomizes the highest ideals of public service.

“She has a heart for people and it really shines through in her work,” he said.

Baker was nominated by her fellow employees and selected by ODAA’s board of directors at its annual meeting, Fields said.

The county’s Victim Witness Program is part of a five-county effort in Canadian, Blaine, Garfield, Grant and Kingfisher counties. Baker – and her counterparts in the other locations – work with victims and their families throughout the criminal justice process. From applying for financial assistance to notifying victims about court hearings and the status of an offender’s parole or incarceration, Baker is the primary link between victims and the system which could ultimately try and punish those behind the violence which changed their lives.

“Crime victims deserve our understanding, our compassion and our respect – Cindy Baker understands this,” Fields said. “She is a respected, effective voice for victims of crime.”

For the families she deals with, Baker is something much simpler – a friend. Her spirit, as well as those taken too soon, were part of Monday’s candlelight vigil.

“It’s been difficult, but you’ve always been there and we love you,” Nina Bryan told her.