Families Remember Crime Victims Through Trees of Honor
OKLAHOMA CITY - The annual Tree of Honor ceremony at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City has grown from one Christmas tree to 10 over the past 21 years.
Each tree is filled with ornaments representing the victims of violent crimes, including survivors.
Best described as a fellowship, the gathering allows family members to grieve loved ones lost, while leaning on each other.
“I think it helps because you don’t feel alone,” said Corinne Bollschweiler, who hung an ornament in honor of her son who was killed last year. “It’s something not a lot of people can understand that you go through, but at the same time it hurts to see so many people suffering."
The Tree of Honor ceremony started after the Oklahoma City bombing, and continues to grow. Close to 200 people showed up to pay their respects Saturday evening. Many families travel from all over the state and beyond for the annual tradition, hanging ornaments each year in memoriam.
The Wileses all wear bright green for 14-year-old Alyssa Wiles, who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2013.
“It’s still very hard at the holidays to remember her,” said her mother Angela Wiles. “She was really smiley and joyful around the holidays, and this year she would be a senior in high school so it’s a little bit more emotional for us.”
Others are still seeking justice. For the hundreds of cases represented on the trees, many are unsolved, like the killing of Gavin Bollschweiler, whose death was initially ruled an overdose.
"It’s disappointing more than anything because the kind of people that do something like this are probably going to do it again,” his mother Corinne Bollschweiler said.
As the families meet, they help each other keep pushing for answers. They also get support from district attorneys from around Oklahoma who organize the event.
The District Attorneys Council catalogs all the ornaments collected and hangs them each year among the new additions, ensuring the victims’ legacies live on.
The trees will be on display on the first floor of the Cox Convention Center through the end of December. To get on the mailing list for future DAC events, contact your local district attorney.