Tree of Angels: A moving tribute to victims of violence

J. Michael Ross jross@empiretribune.com
The 15th Annual Tree of Angels service that honors victims of violent crime, their families and friends, concluded Monday night with the hanging of the Angel ornaments on the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Donald R. Jones Justice Center. Guest speaker was T.K. Roberts [center, hanging the ornament] whose parents were murdered at their home near Morgan Mill in 2001.

On Monday night victims of violent crimes, their families and supporters met in a powerful, moving 15th annual Tree of Angels ceremony at the Donald R. Jones Justice Center in Stephenville.

The guest speaker was T.K. Roberts, daughter of Jerry and Kelly Thomas who were murdered on Aug. 24, 2001 by Bobby DeWeese and Zachary Smith at their home near Morgan Mill.

To say that her heartfelt address was a deeply emotional experience for everyone in attendance is to understate the impact of it by lightyears.

Laurie Gillispie with the district attorney’s office served as master of ceremonies and said in an earlier interview with the E-T prior to the service, “The Tree of Angels is a time for victims, families and friends of victims to come together and remember those that have been victimized or lost due to violent crime.”

District Attorney Alan Nash spoke first and read the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Book of Luke. It tells the story of a victim of a violent crime and a traveling Samaritan man who - when two other travelers had ignored the fallen man that had been robbed and beaten - was aided by the Good Samaritan.

Nash quoted from Luke 10: 25-37, “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

“The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’“

[Jesus then asked a lawyer who was testing him in the crowd:] “ ’Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

“‘The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’

“‘Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise,’” Nash read.

Stephenville Mayor Kenny Weldon followed and read a Tree of Angels Proclamation, part of which said: “When crimes occur society must protect not only the rights of the accused, but also the rights of the victims. The holiday season is a difficult time for victims and their families.

“The Tree of Angels has become a memorable tradition observed in Erath County. The event honors surviving victims of violent crime and victim’s families by allowing loved ones to bring an angel to place on a special Christmas tree.” 

Roberts was the last to speak.

“My mom and dad were good people. My dad was very active in the church, my mom led the children’s choir. They loved my daughter with everything they had inside them. She was their life,” she said. “To other people who have had a similar experience, I just want to say, this is not something you ever get over. Don’t ever let someone tell you this is something you have to let go, because it becomes a part of you. It’s something that you will feel each and every day, so don’t ever feel guilty for feeling it.”

The Tree of Angels program was initiated by People Against Violent Crime in Austin in 1991 and has become a tradition observed throughout Texas communities with 32 counties involved. Governor Greg Abbot proclaimed the week of Dec. 4-10 as Tree of Angels Week in Texas as did former Governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry.

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