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Cold Case: Crimestoppers aims to give families of victims closure, but it's not easy

Darlene Cusanza works to turn the pain of loss into closure by building an anonymous bridge between law enforcement and the community. But it's not easy.

NEW ORLEANS — Over the last 28 years, Darlene Cusanza has heard from many grieving families looking for answers, usually after a loved one has been killed.

“You can just hear the pain, how can you help me, how can you help me,” said Cusanza after taking a phone call.

As President of Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans, Cusanza works to turn that pain into closure by building an anonymous bridge between law enforcement and the community. It’s not easy though.

“There was fear of trusting police. There was fear just in the communities and regretfully that’s kind of been ebb and flow,” Cusanza said.

Working in ten parishes, Cusanza knows trust is key. That’s why tips and reward payouts are anonymous.

“We’re going to pay out in cash, at a local bank drive-through, with just a tip number. Everything we do is encrypted and it’s protected to protect you,” Cusanza said.

It’s also protected to help get closure for families. Tips have led to arrests and convictions, but there’s still a long list of open cases in Southeast Louisiana.

“From the time it happened I was praying someone would come forward,” said Veronica Bailey who lost her son to gun violence in 2013.

Donovan Bailey, 29, was shot while dropping off friends, not far from their home in Reserve. His parents have been working with Crimestoppers ever since.

“They have really worked toward finding something, but nobody is saying anything,” said Donovan’s father Herman Bailey. 

For Cusanza and other grieving families, that’s the toughest part.

“It doesn’t matter when it happens, to that victim it’s fresh every single day,” Cusanza said. “When there’s nothing that’s come in and it’s six to eight months, or whatever, it’s just hard.”

That’s why Crimestoppers did more than 200 presentations in schools across Louisiana last year. 

“That’s huge because we went from being reactive to proactive. We want to prevent,” Cusanza said. “With kids, this is an opportunity to teach them at an early age, get them engaged.”

Cusanza hopes that can stop cycles of violence, allow people to trust the process, and not give in to fear.

“It is from start to finish, it’s each and every one of us and we’re asking people to trust us but we’re also asking them to be our partner and share the message,” Cusanza said.

A message to create a safer community while giving victims’ families a sense of peace.

Like any organization funding, for things like those rewards, is a big issue for Crimestoppers. The court fees from criminal convictions have been reduced and raising money doesn’t add up to what it once did. 

Since its inception, Crimestoppers GNO has assisted in solving more than 17,700 felony crimes. The organization has paid out more than $2.5 million in rewards. You can reach Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111.

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