Tree decorated to honor homicide victims

Lisa Fraley, Shelly Hyatt, Teresa Stevens, Chrystie Kyte, and Cathy Campbell display the handmade ornaments prepared to honor homicide victims in the First Judicial District.

By Lesley Hughes star staff

  The holiday season is supposed to be filled with happiness and joy to create memories that will last a lifetime. But for some people, the holidays can be painful as they mourn their loved ones whose lives were taken from them by criminal acts. The District Attorney General's office has decorated a Christmas tree in honor and remembrance of homicide victims in the First Judicial District.
  As part of the Winter Fest Christmas Tree Exhibit at Sycamore Shoals State Park, District Attorney General Joe Crumley's office and the Board of Probation and Parole in Johnson City decorated the tree with handmade ornaments for victims from Johnson, Carter, Washington, and Unicoi counties.
  Over 60 ornaments have been prepared by the offices after mailing letters to the victims' family. The letter invited family members to a ceremony on Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. "If you wish, you may bring a hand-made ornament to the ceremony and place it on the tree as well. The tree will be available for viewing on Sunday, December 5, 2004. However, we will hold a private ceremony on December 12, 2004, which will give you and your family an opportunity to place your special ornament on the tree," the letter reads.
  Officials from Johnson, Carter, Unicoi, and Washington counties have been invited to the ceremony, which will include the reading of the victims' names, the placing of family hand-made ornaments, and refreshments, according to Crumley. "I just think it is such a good idea. We get to work with them during a really difficult time," he said. "We will have this memorial service in recognition of the people whose lives have been lost."
  Chrystie Kyte and Cathy Campbell, of the District Attorney's office in Carter County, said the idea has spread statewide thanks to the governor's wife, who has promoted the victims' trees.
  Victim's families feel like they have been second handed and dealing with their family member's death can be harder during the holiday season. Kyte said, "We sympathize with them and we think about them often," she said.
  Both women emphasized that each ornament has a story to tell. Local homicide victims to be included are Teresa Sims, Melony Bowers, David Harmon, Aaron Cornett, Bill Rash, Dolly Gouge, Roger Oaks Jr., and Bill Street. Ornaments have also been made for victims' whose cases are still pending: Kristal Dubuque, Carla Scott and Roberta Woods.
  Hard work has driven the production of the tree, but Campbell said even more help is needed to find some families that may have moved or they have been unable to contact. Research of the victims only went back to 1988, but Campbell encouraged family members to contact her or Kyte if a family member was a victim of homicide. Please call 423-547-5897 for more information.
  The tree is intended to be an annual event for the district. Crumley said he hopes to expand next year to include a tree in each county of the district.