State to hold memorial service for homicide victims

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   NASHVILLE -- Governor Phil Bredesen and First Lady Andrea Conte have decided to expand a memorial service hosted for families of homicide victims in the Nashville area while he was mayor to include families of victims across the state.
   The memorial service, which is being called "Tennessee: A Season to Remember" will be held on Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m. Central time at the capitol building.
   "A Season to Remember" was first organized by a group of Davidson County individuals who wanted to establish a memorial event for those recovering from the loss of a family member to an act of violence, according to Conte.
   "It started as a small group in the mayor's office and Phil Bredesen was the mayor at the time," she said, adding that soon after the program's inception, interest increased until crowds outgrew the mayor's office and the memorial service was moved to Nashville's Centennial Park to accommodate the larger crowds.
   With this being Bredesen's first holiday season in office as governor, he and Conte decided to expand the memorial service to include families across the state who are suffering from such a devastating loss.
   "We thought that doing it on a statewide basis would be very appropriate to remember those who were lost to homicide and to remind all of us how fragile life is," Conte said.
   Conte said the basis for the creation of the memorial service was to help families heal from the loss of a loved one to violence by helping them realize they are not alone. The holiday season often proves rough for many families who have lost a loved one, Conte said.
   "There is also a lot of healing power in people who share these experiences," the First Lady said. "It is really a very healing and therapeutic thing to go to events such as this with people who have shared these experiences.
   "It's just a time that you can remember someone close to you, someone that you loved who was suddenly taken from you by murder."
   Wayne Jackson, a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper, lost his sister Sara in 1997 when she was murdered. Her killer has since been arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death.
   Jackson said he and his family attended the "A Season to Remember" service in 1997, the first Christmas the family spent without her. "It's tough that first year," he said. "Your family and friends have to come together in order to get through it."
   According to Jackson, going to the memorial service aided in the healing process. He stated that many of the families talk to each other about their experiences and set up informal support networks by exchanging phone numbers or addresses.
   In the past, family members who have attended the memorial service have hung ornaments on a Christmas tree in honor of their loved one. "We've made homemade ornaments with pictures of Sara on them to put on the tree," Jackson said.
   This year, family members will place the ornaments on Christmas wreaths which will be displayed throughout the Capitol Building during the holiday season.
   Remembering those who have lost their lives to violence is important, Jackson said, adding that many times, after a person is murdered, the public becomes wrapped up in the search for the killer and his or her arrest and forget about the victim. "Us as family members of victims, we never forget it," he said.
   According to Conte, interest has been high for this first statewide memorial service. "Out of our 31 Judicial Districts, 20 of those districts already have people committed to come," the First Lady said. Reservations for the event are not required, but more than 100 have already been made. "I expect that there will be many more people there than that."
   Individuals wanting more information on the memorial service or who wish to make reservations are asked to contact the Governor's Communications Office at (615) 741-3763.