Wednesday, December 3, 2008

December Challenge Day 3.2

There are angels among us:
February 16, 2006 is a day I’ll never forget. I was walking through the living room at 1006 pm and I caught a glimpse of a photo on the news of a familiar face, with a name I knew all too well, and the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen, “The body 18-year old Bowie high school student Jennifer Crecente has been found in a field in south Austin”. The words stopped me dead in tracks. I refused to believe it was MY Jennifer Crecente. I picked up the phone and called my dear friend, Elizabeth, Jennifer’s mother, just to make sure this wasn’t OUR Jennifer they were talking about on the news. There was no answer. I called her cell phone. There was no answer. And I knew what I didn’t want to believe was true.

I’m not exactly sure how old Jennifer was when I met Elizabeth. Based on Adrian’s physical and emotional age, I want to say she was 4. Elizabeth was the leasing agent at the apartments I lived at when I first moved to Austin. Elizabeth and I became fast friends and by virtue of being her friend, I became close friends with her daughter. Elizabeth was a single mom at the time. I made sure to take Jennifer on shopping sprees on the appropriate holidays so Jennifer could spoil her mother properly. She was a joy to be around. Over a couple of years I had met someone and moved on from those shitty apartments and Elizabeth moved on to bigger and better things herself. Though we were in the same city we didn’t get to see each other daily as we had when we lived in the same complex, but saw each other when we could. And that included checking in on Jennifer. I think the last time I saw Jennifer alive was at a Halloween party when she was 14.

That first year after Jennifer’s murder was brutal for everyone, none more so than Elizabeth, I’m sure. But rest assured, a murder doesn’t just affect the victims, their families, and the perpetrators of the crimes. A murder affects everyone that has come into contact with everyone involved. Jennifer died in February, 2006. In December, Elizabeth had sent an email out to all of her friends to let us know Texas People Against Violent Crime was having a “Tree of Angels” tree lighting ceremony to honor victims of violent crimes. OF COURSE, I went. Perhaps out of guilt for not being as present in the past few years as I could, but most definitely because I felt Jennifer deserved to be honored. It was a beautiful experience.

The family members and other loved ones who wish to honor a person who was a victim of a violent crime were encouraged to bring an angel for the Christmas trees. The angels are tagged with the victims name before being placed on the tree and then each subsequent year the ornaments are put out for the families that want to put the same angels back on the tree (in addition to the new victims from the current year). I’m not sure exactly why I missed last year’s ceremony…I think I may have been out of town. But Elizabeth emailed last week to let us know the ceremony was coming up on December 2. I told her I’d love to go. THEN she emailed back a few minutes later and mentioned she had been invited to speak at a seminar in New York about Teens and domestic violence and wouldn’t be able to make the tree lighting ceremony. I told her I’d be there for sure and find our old angels at the church and be sure they made it back on the tree.

Last night I was at the Tree of Angels by myself representing my “family”. I’ve put a slide show together below to show what violence in Travis county looks like. The event is quite sobering. I’m not quite sure what is more sobering. The sheer number of Angel representatives, or the number of small children bringing up ornaments for mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents lost to senseless violence. Be sure to notice the “empty slates” of trees with nothing on them contrasted by the finished product. I only captured the fronts of the trees, but I assure you the anguish and, ironically, joy envelopes the entire tree.

Merry Christmas Jennifer. (F)reddy loves you.


Nessa said...

Thank you for sharing this story with us. I think the tree is a brilliant idea and I think it's great that you went.

Sending you a great big hug.

johnmichael said...

Thanks for sharing Phreddy!
I think with ceremonies like this, names/faces are placed on victims and they become more real, not just a statistic.

Kay said...

I think Jenn was almost 5 or maybe that was the first birthday of her's that we celebrated so it sticks in my mind. I'm still shocked when I think of how things turned out. And fiercely glad that I was at that murdering bastard's sentencing hearing. E has gone through the worst nightmare imaginable and I'm so proud of her for using it to educate people about teen domestic violence.

Walt said...

It's awful that there's a need for "celebrations" like this. So much senseless, damaging crime...

You're a stand up man, (F)reddy.