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Honoring crime victims with Tree of Angels

Lamar University students, faculty and staff are taking time from their busy end-of-the-semester schedules to join in an annual event honoring victims of crime.

Tree of Angels participantsThe Tree of Angels began in Austin in 1991 when Verna Lee, executive advisor of People Against Violent Crime, recognized that the holiday season is a difficult time for victims and their families. Today this special event in December has grown to 58 counties in Texas, as well as events in Oklahoma and Australia.

Each event honors surviving victims of violent crime and victims' families by making it possible for loved ones to bring an Angel to place on a special Christmas tree. The Jefferson County event is in its 16th year.

On November 9, 2000, former Governor George W. Bush proclaimed December 4 through December 10 as Tree of Angels Week in Texas.

“Violent crime in Texas has stolen too many dreams,” Former Texas Governor George W. Bush said at the time. “Words alone cannot comfort a child who has lost a parent, we are here at the Tree of Angels to say that we care about you and pray that in the blessed season, your hearts find peace tonight.”

The Jefferson County Coalition for Victims of Crime will gather with friends and family at the 16th Annual Tree of Angels to honor those who have suffered losses due to crime.  The event will take place at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Beaumont, where a 20-foot Christmas tree will be raised and decorated by area organizations who work throughout the year with crime victims seeking a way to right what has gone wrong in their lives.

The Coalition invites all those who have felt the awful hurt of crime to join the group at 6 p.m. on December 6 at the Jefferson County courthouse, 1149 Pearl St., in Beaumont.

Those attending can hang their own memorial ornaments on the giant tree, which will remain in place throughout the holiday season.  Cookies and drinks will be served after the lighting of the tree.

OrnamentsAntoinette Mays, sponsor of LU’s chapter of Bruised but Not Broken, a support group for people touched by domestic violence, sexual assault or loss through suicide, has participated in the event for a decade. “I have loved ones and friends who have lost their lives to violent crime – a police officer and a friend in Mississippi, so this event is always special to me,” she said. “As a counselor and advocate for victims of domestic violence I also find this a very special time. You see not only sorrow, but also great love. The camaraderie with all the people is special to me.”

The event brings together people of all ages with a common cause, Mays said. “It is fun to see the children participate, to see the smiles on their faces when we light up the tree.”

Lamar University students serve as hosts and help out at the event in other ways. Gyngyn Detorres, a junior nursing major from Nederland, is helping this year with other members of the Sigma Sigma Rho sorority.

“It’s heartwarming,” Detorres said. “I was surprised at the number of people there and enjoyed the Christmas songs. It is fun doing this and it’s a break from studies.”

Saddiqa Akhtar, a junior mechanical engineering major from Port Arthur, is also a member of Sigma Sigma Rho. Akhtar has volunteered with Christmas toy distributions with Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Beaumont.  “I love doing things like that,” she said. Being a part of the Tree of Angels event is another way of helping her community, Akhtar said.