Inaugural Tree of Angels ceremony honors local violent crime victims, families, friends
December 11, 2023
Many anticipate the joyous events that make up the holiday season. However, those affected by violent crime or the loss of a loved one, can find this time incredibly challenging.
Families and friends of victims of violent crime gathered at the McKenna Events Center on Dec. 6 for the Tree of Angels ceremony, a meaningful Christmas program held explicitly in memory and support of victims of violent crime. The New Braunfels Police Department and the local law enforcement and justice community organized the event.
The Tree of Angels allows communities to recognize that the holiday season is a difficult time for families and friends who have suffered the impact of a violent crime. It was the first time the New Braunfels community hosted a Tree of Angels ceremony.
“My heart is both heavy and hopeful,” said Delilah Reyes of the Thriving Heart Crisis Center, addressing attendees. “The holiday season is often filled with joy and celebration. It can also be a time of profound difficulties for families and friends of those who have lost their loved one to an act of violence.”
During the invocation, Bishop Michael Franklin, president of the MLK Association, cited the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The special event honored and supported surviving victims and victims’ families by making it possible for loved ones to bring an angel ornament to place on a Christmas tree.
“We would like to dedicate this tree tonight to victims who have lost their lives to violent crime or are missing,” said New Braunfels Police Department crime victim liaison Lisa Sargent. “Tonight, we honor them and recognize the void left behind and the impact that is left on the families, friends and our community,”
Members of the New Braunfels Police Department Honor Guard escorted each family to the tree to place their angel ornament.
Vanessa Paulini, a crime victim liaison with the Comal County Sheriff’s Office, read a proclamation issued by Comal County commissioners. The New Braunfels City Council also issued a proclamation recognizing the event.
The first program was established in December 1991 by Verna Lee, executive advisor of People Against Violent Crime in Austin. Since then, the Tree of Angels has become a tradition in many communities.
A candle-lighting ceremony also was part of the service, with New Braunfels Police Chief Keith Lane, District Attorney Jennifer Tharp and Comal County Sheriff Mark Reynolds lighting candles representing peace, hope and healing.
“These candles represent a journey we are all taking,” said NBPD crime victim liaison Priscilla Drozd, introducing the candle-lighting ceremony. “It’s not by choice, but of circumstances, and in the darkness, we can find light.”
In addition, event organizers set up a lighted display containing the names of violent crime victims and a table for those wishing to bring a photo of their loved ones.
Below the names of the crime victims, the lighted board states, “Your wings were ready, but our hearts were not.”
Performing on guitar, NBPD Lt. Joe Robles provided music for the event, leading attendees in singing “Silent Night” to end the service.
The Tree of Angels is on dislay at the New Braunfels Police Department headquarters on West San Antonio Street through the holiday season.