Tree decorations honor homicide victims

Photo by Kristen Luther
Gale Gentry and Skylar place an ornament on the tree in memory of Gentry’s daughter and Skylar’s mother, Kristal Dubuque.

Photo by Kristen Luther
Riley Stilner peers over a handmade ornament made in memory of Dustin Stilner, before she placed it on the tree.

  By Lesley Hughes

star staff

  The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy for all families, but for those who have lost loved ones to tragedy, the holiday season brings only memories.
  The First District Attorney General's Office decided to coordinate, "A Time of Remembrance" at Sycamore Shoals State Park Sunday. The event included handmade decorations for a tree to honor homicide victims from the First District. Each ornament displays the victim's name. Family members were invited to make another ornament in honor of their daughter, son, mother, father, sister or brother.
  Family members of victims packed the auditorium of Sycamore Shoals as Crumley led a program that left many people in tears as they remembered their loved one.
  With hopes of coordinating the event on an annual basis, Crumley said: "I am just overwhelmed by the response we have had. Each of these ornaments has touched me in some way. The ones that I have actually worked with I have found a lot of these families to be really dear friends."
  "What I try to tell people when I work with them is 'We don't want to remember the bad things that have happened. We want to remember the good things."
  Those present were directed to the Christmas Tree Exhibit where each family present was called forward to place another handmade ornament on the tree. As the roll call of victims was called, those present stood in silence. Ranging from lavish to lacy, from small to large, each ornament represented love and honor from family members.
  Gale Gentry and her two-year-old grandson, Skylar, made an ornament for Gentry's daughter, Kristal Dubuque, whose body was found on Feb. 18, 2004 on the Watauga River bank. After being reported missing two days before, Dubuque was found approximately one-quarter of a mile down stream from where her car was recovered on Feb. 16.
  Robert Lee "Bob" Miller, 45, 221 Bill Nave Loop has been charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, and aggravated rape in the case.
  Going through the first Christmas after Kristal's death, Gale said the event "makes me feel good inside and warm. This brings out some Christmas feelings."
  As for the ornament for Kristal, "Skylar (Dubuque's son) and I made it. We just got a picture of her goofing off in it. I asked Skylar what he wanted to do and he picked the stocking and a picture. He picked the picture of his mom laughing. And he knows who Mommy is. We really appreciate everything that everyone in the community has done," Gentry said.
  Crumley said after the event: "I am just very pleased. The response has been tremendous and I never expected to have this many people. We actually became concerned as to whether we would have enough room."
  For next year, "We are trying to negotiate to see if we can get the large tree out in the foyer. Eventually we would like to have one in each county. But for now I think we will have to limit our efforts to one tree for the whole district," Crumley said.