The holiday season is a time for families to come together, but for those who have lost loved ones to violent crimes, there will always be something missing. The annual Tree of Honor ceremony helps to fill that void, and it can help with the healing process.
Eleven beautiful Christmas trees standing in the Cox Convention Center are filled with tragic stories of lives lost, and each year the families of the victims come from far and wide to remember.
It has been 19 years since Diana and Larry Dean made their first trip from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to visit the Tree of Honor. That was the year their 16-year-old daughter Dena was murdered. Her killer has never been caught, and the holiday season has not gotten much easier for the Deans.
“We manage,” Diana says. “We get by.”
Coming to the ceremony brings them closer to those who understand their pain. Organizers relate the ceremony to a fellowship.
“It makes it a little easier to know that somebody is also walking down the same path that you have walked down,” says Diana.
Starting with one tree in the 90s, now there are 11, with more names added every year. Many of these cases remain unsolved, but investigators are still looking for answers.
The OSBI released its Cold Case Playing Cards this year, in hopes of getting new tips from current inmates. Also, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office launched a Cold Case Task Force last year, in a renewed effort to find Dena's killer.
Her mother says, “I really feel that they’re going to get somewhere on it.”
While the Deans are hesitant to get their hopes up, they also refuse to give up, and they encourage other families to keep up the fight for justice.
“If you’ve lost a loved one to violence like this, don’t give up,” Diana urges. “Let your voice be heard. You’re all they have left.”
The Trees of Honor will be on display at the Cox Convention Center until Christmas, giving everyone an opportunity to reflect.