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Angel Trees: Honoring hundreds in Summit County who lost their lives to violent crime

Someone is a victim of homicide in Summit County every 10 days
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Posted at 10:47 PM, Dec 05, 2022

AKRON, Ohio — Dozens of families gathered at Akron Public Library Monday evening, but they didn’t want to be there. They were there for Summit County’s Victim Assistance Program’s Angel Tree Ceremony.

“None of us should really be here today. We should be able to embrace our loved ones, spend time with them, enjoy that time with them and here we are mourning,” said Yalaunda Dortch.

Dortch lost her 21-year old daughter, Teyaurra Harris, in April of this year. She was caught in the crossfire of gun violence in Akron.

“She was an innocent bystander in the shooting that was taking place at the time. She succumbed to her injuries,” said Dortch.

Victim Assistance Program serves 5,000 people each year that have lost loved ones to violent crime. Leanne Graham is the president and CEO.

“We provide advocacy and education to individuals who have suffered a tragedy in their life whether that be crime related or a traumatic incident,” she said. “We provide a comfort space for those individuals and that family to come and remember those who have lost their lives due to trauma.”

Monday Dec. 5 the group hosted its 29th annual Angel Tree Ceremony.

“We provide a comfort space for those individuals and that family to come and remember those who have lost their lives due to trauma” said Graham.

At the library, a display that reads ‘Gone but not Forgotten’ shows hundreds of photos of victims who have lost their lives over the past three decades.

“Families from 20 years ago, families that have lost a love one just last week,” said Graham.

No matter the time that has passed, the pain is still fresh for many as they write their loved one’s name on an angel ornament and hang it on Christmas trees throughout the library.

“For her not be here, you constantly think of her, you constantly just want to call her, to go see, her but you can’t do that,” said Teyaurra Harris’ sister Dyani Harris. “Everything changes and you change the same moment that you lose somebody that is that close to you.”

Akron, in particular, has had a violent and tough year in the schools and on the streets.

Mayor Dan Horrigan and his Youth and Community Opportunity director, Denico Buckley-Knight, attended the Angel Tree Ceremony.

“The city stood up a program pretty quickly with American Rescue Plan Act dollars, not only addressing youth violence but youth opportunity and how we do that,” said Horrigan. “Nonprofits are doing great work on that end to bring violence down in schools and on the ground and how we fund those nonprofits, to me, is on the ground work that needs to be done.”

Buckley-Knight said they’re working to fund those nonprofits and approach violence at-home, at schools and in the community.

“I, too, have suffered from incidents of violence in the community,” said Buckley-Knight. “Anytime that we lose a life, especially a young life, then all of us have to deal with the negative effects of that.”

Dortch said her family will never be the same without Teyaurra, but hopes that each year at the Angel Tree Ceremony, there will be less and less new pictures and names displayed.

Graham said for anyone suffering this holiday season, or anytime, to give them a call at 330-376-0040

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