By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
Thousands poured into the Killeen Community Center parking lot Friday for the annual Holiday Under the Stars event.
Santa Claus flew in on a helicopter and rode a fire truck from the softball fields up to the Community Center to light the tree.
"Welcome Santa," Mayor Timothy Hancock said as Santa got off the fire truck.
Glenn Morrison, director of Community Services, said the crowd was the largest he has seen at the annual event, noting typically there have been 500 to 1,000 people at the event's start in the past. This year, he estimated more than 2,000 at the tree-lighting.
"We've never had this size crowd to start it off," Morrison said.
The parking lot at Hastings across the street, the parking lot behind the Community Center at the softball fields and the parking lot for the park across the street were all full with cars fishing for a spot to park.
Many flocked to the event for the city's new synthetic ice-skating rink. Melissa Myers, 36, of Killeen, is originally from Florida. She had never ice skated before Friday.
"That's why I was so happy to see it the other day," Myers said. "One time around and I'm good."
Myers said she was glad to see the city get a recreation opportunity like that.
Councilman Juan Rivera threw his arms up in the air as he completed his second lap on the synthetic ice.
"I got it," Rivera said, following it with a stumble – but not a fall.
He was not on the council when it decided to buy the $90,305, 4,800-square-foot portable skating rink, but said he's it's a good investment for the quality of life in the city.
Jasmine Owens, 14, had skated on ice before and came to try out the synthetic rink.
"It's easier," she said.
Others came for more than the ice skating. The Bebo family saw a flier and several things peaked their interest.
"I like arts and crafts," Janet Bebo, 9, said.
Inside the Community Center there were arts and crafts projects like decorating Christmas ornaments. Janet's sister, Jasmine, 7, had a simple and classic answer for going to the event.
"To see Santa," she said.
The event went from 6 to 9 p.m. and also included hay rides, bouncy games, a rock-climbing wall, performances by local high school bands and choirs and free hot chocolate and cookies.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7550