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Homicide victims' families gather for holiday remembrance ceremony

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Dec 13, 2017 at 4:33 PM

About 75 people gathered for the third HOPE for Victims Remembrance Ceremony Tuesday night at the Washington County Justice Center in Jonesborough.

HOPE for Victims founder Joan Berry, mother of murder victim Johnia Berry, and Northeast Tennessee Coordinator LaVern Craig, daughter of murder victim Dolly Gouge, were among the family members of 16 victims of violent crimes who placed ornaments on a five-foot wreath in memory of their lost loved ones.

Berry, who introduced herself the crowd as as “just a mother with a broken heart,” told them she was “glad you can be together to remember loved ones you lost to violent crimes.”

“There is not a lot you can do for them at Christmas. But these little ceremonies mean a lot to us. And also we want the community to be aware these things happen and you never know when they might happen to you,” Berry said, speaking through tears.

District Attorney Tony Clark told the families “Murder victims should not be forgotten” and the annual holiday remembrance ceremony will continue as long as one family member wishes to place an ornament in their loved one's memory.

And Sara Hodges, the Tennessee Department of Corrections correctional administrator for East Tennessee, told them they had the respect of her department’s Victims Services Division staff.

In her work with victims’ families across the region, Hodges said, “the thing I find common among you is your strength.”

“You are an inspiration to us, to our staff and to all of those who will come after you,” Hodges said.

The David Crockett High School Madrigal Singers provided music for the HOPE for Victims remembrance ceremony.

Then, one-by-one, the families came forward and placed the ornaments they had fashioned in their lost loved ones’ memory on the wreath as their names were read to the crowd.

Betty Gilley, who came to the ceremony to honor her daughter, Karen Kay Young-Thomas, and her families were among those who gathered around the wreath for photographs after the ceremony.

“I’m so glad we have this,” Gilley said. “It’s something we will never get over, but at least we have this.

Surrounded by her husband and Young-Thomas’ three sisters, niece and grand niece, she said, “We are a close family. We’re all Christians and that’s how we got through this.”

With the victims’ families, Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal came to the remembrance wreath to place a purple ornament in memory of fallen law enforcement officers.

The HOPE for Victims wreath will remain on display in the foyer of the Washington County Justice Center in Jonesborough throughout the holidays.

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