By Jade Ortego
Killeen Daily Herald
The Bell and Coryell Counties Crime Victims' Coalition will conduct its sixth annual Tree of Angels ceremony tonight to honor the victims of violent crime.
Each year, people come to the ceremony to place angel ornaments on the Christmas tree in remembrance of victims of a violent crime. Many times, people who were victims themselves hang an ornament. The tree remains in the Bell County Expo Center in Belton for the rest of the holiday season.
Usually, more than 300 people attend the ceremony, coalition chair Jill Hargrove said, and some come from out of state to honor those who were victimized here.
"Of course, we have such a high number of crimes and we don't want to leave anyone out. Our victims look forward to it each year," Hargrove said.
According to www.treeofangels.org, the ceremony takes place in early December in 43 counties in Texas and in New South Wales, Australia.
The local event, which is open to the public and is free, begins with a musical performance and ends with a light meal and candlelight vigil. For those who brought an angel in a previous year, it should be there waiting for the sponsor to hang it again, Hargrove said, so there's no need to bring another.
"Our tree is filling fast," she said.
Hargrove said that the experience is an uplifting one for survivors and those who have lost loved ones to violent crime. When you've experienced a loss or a traumatic event, there's a place inside that the holiday spirit doesn't touch, she said.
"When we're there and hanging an angel, we're acknowledging that that feeling is important," Hargrove said. "This is a way for people to start the holiday season and not forget their loved ones or what they've survived. It's very empowering. And this year, of course, we have 13 new victims," referring to those killed in the Nov. 5 shootings at Fort Hood.
The ceremony starts at 6:25 p.m. in the assembly hall at the Bell County Expo Center on Loop 121 just west of Interstate 35 in Belton.
Contact Jade Ortego at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553.