COVID-19 has claimed another annual event this month, this one designd to give families of crime victims the opportunity to memorialize their loved one.
The service, an event sponsored by the District Attorney General’s Office and HOPE for Victims, a nonprofit organization that supports the families of homicide victims, allowed a victim’s family to place an ornament in memory of their relative on a Christmas tree or wreath.
That tree or wreath has in years past been displayed in the foyer of the Washington County Justice Center for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday seasons.
It’s partly because of the COVID situation,” District Attorney General Ken Baldwin said. “That would be a whole lot of people gathering. Every time we have had one, it’s been highly attended.”
Joan Berry, one of the founders of HOPE for Victims, said last year the time was set aside so those loved ones won’t be forgotten.
“We come together tonight in memory of our loved one ... so they will not be forgotten,” Berry said at the 2020 event. “The holidays are a very hard time and a very sad time, especially if you have lost a loved one to a violent crime. The holidays, it makes the pain deeper. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything that can make that go away. We don’t want our loved ones to be forgotten. By hanging an ornament on the wreath, it makes us feel like we’ve done something special.”
Berry’s 21-year-old daughter, Johnia Berry, was killed Dec. 6, 2004, around 4 a.m., when a stranger entered the young woman’s Brandon Park Apartment in Knoxville looking to steal car keys. When the thief did not find what he was looking for in the living room, he went into Johnia’s bedroom and brutally stabbed her multiple times during the robbery.
Baldwin said victim’s families have expressed their disappointment, but “I think they understand.”
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “Pretty much the same people come year after year. They are so dedicated to that, and they bring their ornaments they’ve used over the years. It’s such a great ceremony, and these people are such a unique group,” no one wants to be in.
Another issue with attempting to have the memorial would be access to the courthouse and socially distancing requirements.
Baldwin said there were also no plans for a virtual event. He said he hopes the event will be able to resume next year.