The event had a festive, celebratory tone, but it also was designed to draw focus to a more solemn part of the holidays for many families in the area: the absence of victims of violence.
County Mayor Richard Venable threw the switch to light a large spruce in front of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse, as well as surrounding shrubs and smaller trees — save one.
District Attorney Barry Staubus spoke about the importance of remembering victims and then lit that final tree in memory of victims of violence.
Staubus said he recognized many faces in the crowd and knew they had lost loved ones to senseless acts of violence.
“I can’t experience what they have,” Staubus said. “They each tell me the same thing. It’s a bittersweet experience. They have to live without their loved ones, but they have to go on and they want to honor their loved ones.”
Staubus said lighting the two trees in a joint ceremony is good because it unites the community.
“I think we’re all joined in the same theme of hope and love,” Staubus said. “For them, they come here as an expression of honor for loved ones lost. For us, we’re here for a love of the season.”
Staubus said just being included was a humbling experience for him, and although the friends and families of those lost to violence can’t be with them now, they hope to someday be reunited with them.
Anyone in the crowd was invited to come forward if they wanted to place an ornament on a wreath in memory of a loved one lost to violence. Within minutes, the wreath, which will be displayed inside the Blountville Justice Center throughout the month, was covered in ornaments.
The Victims Remembrance tree is lighted in purple, the symbolic color for victims.
The event was sponsored by the Sullivan County Department of Archives and Tourism and the partnership of the First Judicial District Attorney General’s Office and the local chapter of the Hope for Victims support and advocacy group. Christmas caroling was provided by the Blountville Middle School Choir.