ANGLETON — For the last 10 years in December, Austin County Commissioner Mark Lamp and his wife, Wendy, have driven over 70 miles from their hometown of Bellville to the Brazoria County Courthouse.
They do it as a way to spend Christmas with their daughter Alyssa, who was 20 years old when she was killed by a drunk driver in the county, Lamp said.
“I’m an elected official in another county, and we don’t remember crime victims like they do here in Brazoria County,” Lamp said. “I’m just really thankful for this opportunity.”
What started as one Christmas tree in the lobby of the courthouse 21 years ago under District Attorney Jeri Yenne’s leadership, turned into three Christmas trees filled with decorations and letters memorializing to those who’ve perished by violent crimes, Chief Crime Victims Coordinator for Brazoria County Joshua Collins said.
Like Lamp and his wife, hundreds of family members gathered to honor their loved ones during the holidays Tuesday night, Collins said.
“This has probably been our biggest event,” Collins said. “We give a place for survivors of homicide so they can honor their loved one. It’s very important this time of year. Holidays are very tough. ... We have some victims that this has tragically happened to them and it’s fresh, versus ones that went through it 20 years ago, but it’s still the same hurt.”
While it doesn’t bring loved ones back, the event helps preserve memories in the presence of people who understand, Collins said.
“We’re so thankful that this county remembers,” Lamp said. “This is our way to spend Christmas with our daughter.”
The experience is also a chance to bond with others who understand what it’s like to lose a loved one unexpectedly, Collins said.
“It’s our hope that we can bring a little hope and peace to get through the holidays,” Collins said.
For Lindsay Monaghan, sister-in-law to Ginger Dodson Jackson, who was killed in September, the event is a way to share happy memories during a difficult season.
“It’s been really hard,” Monaghan said. “She died three days before her niece was born. But it’s nice to be here in the community and have something where can meet people who’ve gone through something similar.”
With a framed photo of Jackson hanging on the tree, family members took time to take the scene in.
Monaghan hopes it will become an annual tradition to share in Jackson’s memory, along with her other family members.
At about 8 p.m., all ornaments and remembrances were hung on the trees. With Collins thanking everyone for being there to take part in the ceremony, the trees were lit up, illuminating the courthouse lobby.
“We don’t know what these families are going through, we can’t understand it,” Collins said. “All we can do is give them a sense of hope.”