Victims of crime remembered in special ceremony
SEVIERVILLE — There was a somber gathering at the Sevier County Courthouse Friday evening, a show of solidarity among members of a fraternity no one volunteers to join, as family members of victims of violent crime placed special ornaments on a victims’ tree of remembrance.
The tree, which will be placed in the courthouse lobby, now carries items meant to remind those who see it of lives that were taken early, and violently. Some have pictures of victims; one had a handprint from the victim and another had notes containing handwritten memories and thoughts from family and friends.
Many stopped as they filed up to the tree to say that they understand what outsiders can’t — the pain that they all carry.
There was a large contingent there to remember Leah Avril, who was 18 when she was shot and killed in a Murrell Meadows apartment in 2009. A Sevier County jury convicted Jacob Stanton of second-degree murder earlier this year. Stanton, who had been dating Avril, maintained the shooting was an accident.
“I think I’m still in shock,” said Leah's mother, Shirley Sanders.
But like many of the victims, she said she got by in part because of her faith she would see Leah again. And she said she thinks often of others who have suffered the kind of loss she did. “I pray every night for you all,” she said.
The families gathered were from all of the counties in the Fourth Judicial District, and from outside the area. They covered a long range of time, too, as some of the family members honored victims of crimes that happened decades ago. One family member noted they’d been fighting appeals for 23 years.
They also had a representative from one of the county’s most recent tragedies. Bob Lycnh is pastor of Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Maryville. A van carrying members of his church was returning form an event in September when another driver slammed into the van on Chapman Highway, killing Seymour High School student Courteney Kaliszewski and the driver, Jeffrey Trussell.
The Seymour man police say was driving the car now faces charges including vehicular homicide, assault and driving under the influence.
Lynch, like so many others, said it had given him insight into what the others were feeling. “I know your hearts today are as heavy as mine,” he said.
The event was organized by the office of District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn. The tree, he said, was not meant to be a sign of mourning but a reminder of who the victims were. Often the families victims come to him and say that what they want most of all is for other people to know who the victims were, and that they lived.
“We’re here so that people will know that they lived,” Dunn said.