By Kierra Pixler, Managing Editor
The Bell County Crime Victims Coalition held the 15th annual Tree of Angels event on Monday, Nov. 26 at the Bell County Expo Center. The Tree of Angels event has been held annually since 2013 to honor individuals who have died as victims of crime.
Jill McAfee, who volunteered at the event, presented the welcome and offered encouragement for the families who attended the Tree of Angels to honor their loved ones.
“We are here for you, we love you and we support you.” McAfee said.
The event began with a collection of ornaments from tables placed along the back wall of the room. Families bring ornaments to honor their loved ones on the tree. Once the trees are taken down, the Bell County Crime Victims Coalition packages the ornaments so that families may reuse the ornaments the next year.
Dana Bettger, Victim/Witness Coordinator at the Bell County District Attorney’s Office of Victim Services and volunteer at the Tree of Angels event believes that the Tree of Angels is important in providing support for the families of victims of crime.
“It is important to be here for the families,” Bettger said “Especially now, Christmas is hard when you have lost a loved one so we want to support these families as they go through this time.”
The families and friends of victims of crime gathered at the Bell County Expo Center to honor their loved ones by participating in the Tree of Angels.
“Every person in this room has something in common,” Bettger said “I think it’s important for them to see that they’re not alone as they go through this.”
While the Tree of Angels works to honor those who have become victims of crime, it serves as a reminder of the lives that have been lost to senseless acts of crime.
“This event is not easy to put on, but it is important,” Bettger said “I see it every day working at the D.A.’s office, but it never gets easier. We have to be here to support these families.”
Bettger created a presentation for the event with pictures of the victims over the years. Each slide contained the victim’s date of birth and the date they passed away. Some of the youngest victims were younger than five years old.
Henry Garza, Bell County District Attorney, presented the opening remarks at the event.
“My office supports what you are doing,” Garza said “We stand in a position to be your voice. We stand in a position to be there for you each and every day. We will not stop fighting.”
Garza presented a passionate speech encouraging the individuals at the event to speak up when they see crime.
“Part of our calling is extending our hand to those who are hurt. We stand in a position to do what is just, Garza said. “Confront crime when you see it. People do need help. People need that hand extended and sometimes that hand is yours. At the end of the day, we make a difference.”
Aulani Morales presented a speech about her experience with crime when her loved on, Little Robert, was murdered. The event proceeded with a performance of “One Thing I Know for Sure” by Jillian Howell. The two trees used for the event were dedicated to law enforcement officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice when they died in the line of duty. After the trees were dedicated, audience members were encouraged to place the angels honoring their loved ones on the trees while the Belton High School choir sang Christmas carols.
The event closed with a candlelight vigil to honor the fallen. Avery Ling performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the candles were lit and the Belton High School choir performed “Silent Night” during the silent vigil. The event closed with a benediction by Dr. Gregory Cruell from the Christian House of Prayer.
Jill McAfee delivered the closing remarks for the Tree of Angels.
“We thank you, we love you and we are with you,” McAfee said.
The trees are on display at the Bell County Expo Center and will remain on display until New Year’s Day. The Tree of Angels is set to be held again on the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2019. For more information, visit the Bell County Crime Victims Coalition Facebook page.