A different kind of Christmas gathering was held at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Conroe Tuesday evening, as loved ones of violent crime victims gathered for the 21st Annual Tree of Angels ceremony.
Five years ago, Margaret Smith took over the responsibility of setting up the tree and coordinating and announcing the event. Smith’s daughter, Meghann was killed by a drunk driver in 2008, leaving a hole in her heart and her family that can never be filled. She and her husband, Paul “Smitty” Smith, have found many positive ways to channel their grief over losing Meghann, including establishing DWI Tracker, that involves volunteers on the streets spotting and reporting impaired drivers to law enforcement in the hopes of preventing another family from suffering the loss the Smith family lives with every day since that awful night nine years ago.
Over 100 people gathered at the 2017 Tree of Angels event, attended not just by families and friends of violent crime victims, but by law enforcement officers and prosecutors who have all been brought together by these horrible, sudden, and preventable premature deaths. Smith estimates the tragic and beautiful tree has around 1,000 ornaments on it now.
“When you actually put the angels up from prior years, it’s very hard because everyone has a story,” Smtih said. “You feel it, you feel their pain you think about their pain, what kind of life they had and the joy they lived and then they’re gone.”
“When there’s a crime like this, there’s no notice,” she said. “They’re just gone.”
Assistant District Attorney Tyler Dunman has served as a voice for many victims in his job with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. He was part of the event Tuesday night, speaking about dealing with these cases, which is obviously much more than a job to Dunman, it’s a calling, and one he takes personally.
Dunman called the event powerful and said he was proud to be a part of it. He praised the officers who are working to “make sure roadways are safe for our citizens”.
Dunman spoke of the Sedlmeier family – one of the most tragic DWI fatal crash stories in Montgomery County history. Two parents and their two young children were killed on a clear beautiful Sunday as they drove home from church. Both parents had risked their lives in Africa and other foreign lands to spread God’s word and to help others who dedicated and risked their own lives for the same cause. Both had many brushes with death as they did God’s work, which was how they came together. Ronald Sedlmeier was German born and Mindy Sedlmeier was born in Oklahoma. The pair met and fell in love on the other side of the world and eventually left their dangerous and courageous pasts and became parents, finally settling in Montgomery, Texas. It was on a lazy Sunday, when it seemed as though God himself was smiling on southeast Texas with perfect weather, that an impaired driver struck and killed the entire family. Tyler Dunman prosecuted that case this year, but in the process of preparation, he came to know the deceased family through the stories of their family members.
Dunman said he’d been inspired to “live a better life, to help others, to pray more, to be deeper in faith, and to think and focus on what’s most important”.