Surviving family members of those who were lost to a violent crime as well as survivors of a violent crime gathered at the Montgomery County Courthouse on Dec. 12, for the 23rd annual Montgomery County Tree of Angels Dedication.
The Tree of Angels was started in 1991 in Austin by Verna Lee, Executive Advisor of People Against Violent Crime, to recognize that the holiday season is a difficult time for victims and their families. The event honors surviving victims of violent crime and victims’ families by making it possible for loved ones to bring an Angel to place on a special Christmas tree.
Sandy Trotter’s daughter, Melissa, was murdered in 1998 in Montgomery County. Her killer, Larry Ray Swearingen, was executed in August.
Sandy Trotter said she and her family have been coming to the Tree of Angels Dedication since 1999.
“I just really think it’s a day that we come back to the courts to put a reminder of our loved one, because we went through so many weeks in this building, this particular building, said Trotter. “They have Tree of Angels everywhere, but just coming back to this building, it’s got a lot of emotion to it.” Because Fred Edwards was the Judge during the case (Judge Fred Edwards died in 2014.), and just with all the District Attorneys, it’s almost like I miss them.”
Trotter told Bluebonnet News that celebrating Christmas will be a little easier this year because her daughter’s killer was executed.
“I don’t feel as burdened, that I can go and do something and not have to worry that there’s going to be something that happens.”
Trotter said it’s been a real relief that it’s finally done, but it’s a shame, though, that it’s taken this many years to have the execution happen.
“I don’t know how to fix it; appeal, after appeal over one tiny little part, when many times the appeals court said there was just overwhelming evidence of his guilt.”
Trotter said Melissa’s birthday was Nov. 26, and she would have turned 40.
“We have to keep the spirit alive of our loved one, and try to enjoy the fun moments, the good moments. “For her birthday, I asked people to send me a favorite story for her birthday. “The one thing she would do, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, she loved black olives, so on each finger she’d have an olive on them.”
Trotter said when she thinks of Melissa now, she hangs on to those fun moments.
Ron and Annette Bennett lost their son, Shane, in 2002. Shane Bennett was a Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy, but lived in Montgomery County.
Bennett was killed in a friendly fire incident while responding to a family disturbance that turned into a home invasion in 2002.
Annette Bennett said she and her husband have been attending the Tree of Angels Dedication for the past ten to 12 years.
“It gives us a sense of peace, seeing all the angels on the tree. It also helps us if we can help anyone else that’s just fairly new on this journey,” said Bennett. By helping others, it helps us continue to heal as well.”