AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The 19th annual Tree of Angels program was scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 9, at 6:30 p.m. on the 11th floor of the Santa Fe Building, according to the Amarillo Police Department.
According to the police department, the ceremony is intended to be held yearly to honor the victims of violent crimes, inviting families and friends of homicide victims to hang an ornament on the tree for their loved ones. Amarillo Police Department Chief Martin Birkenfeld, Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas, and employees of the 47th District Attorney’s Office, Potter County Attorney’s Office, Amarillo Fire Department, and Family Support Services are also expected to attend.
As MyHighPlains.com has mentioned in previous reports, the city of Amarillo has reported an increase in homicides over the last year. In 2019, 16 homicides were reported, and 15 in 2020; meanwhile, by late October 2021 there had been more than 20.
A rise in violent crimes has been reported by law enforcement officials nationwide through 2021, with the subject coming into the spotlight yet again in the Amarillo area after a string of drive-by shootings on Labor Day that resulted in the death of 62-year-old Laura Etta Ashley.
However, even before that incident, Amarillo Police Department officials commented on the “alarming number” of homicides by August. Violent crime, as well, was reported to have seen a general increase.
“Our cases this year that involve violent crime have been up compared to last year,” said Cpl. Jeb Hilton with the Amarillo Police Department. “We did think that we would see a lower case last year with everything being shut down and less people being out, and that was was kind of what we saw. This year, it just came back full force. We’re seeing a lot more than what we expected.”
As of August 2021, Cpl. Hilton also noted that every one of the homicides were gun-related.
“That that’s not common. We usually see something, a knife or something other than that, when it comes to the violence that we’re seeing homicides with, but this year, they have all been related to gun violence,” said Cpl. Hilton.
While it has remained unclear what specifically has caused the increase in violent crime and homicides, law enforcement officials have reiterated their commitment to the community.
“We’re not sure what’s causing it, but we’re hoping that we can continue to look into the reasons that we’re seeing them here, the people that commit them, catching the people that commit them before they can commit another crime, and making sure that we’re doing what we can to keep those numbers as low as possible,” said Cpl. Hilton.
In the meantime, traditions such as the Tree of Angels have continued to embody the efforts of law enforcement in the community to remember those who have been lost to violence and comfort the loved ones left in the aftermath.