It is in many ways a tree of pain and suffering, with photos, ornaments and little trinkets that represent lives lost to senseless gun violence.
But it is also a tree of hope and remembrance, a reminder that those same lives meant so much to so many and are not forgotten.
One by one the wives, sons and daughters, nephews, fathers and mothers — all together in family units — approached a Christmas tree at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Mission Station lobby. Carefully, often with tears in their eyes, they put an ornament, a framed photo and all manner of decorations on the tree, all representing a person who has been killed in the San Fernando Valley this year.
On Dec. 7, 21 families that lost loved ones responded to an invitation from the LAPD Operation Valley Bureau Homicide Division to take part in its first annual “Christmas Tree Trimming Memorial.” Other LAPD Divisions have organized similar events in the past.
The purpose of the event, officers said, is to invite family members to hang an ornament on the tree in remembrance of their lost loved one, and to get support from other families as well as LAPD personnel.
“It’s Been Hard”
For some it was a chance to reunite with the detectives who worked tirelessly to catch the attackers, or to catch up on cases still unsolved.
Among those who came was Delmy Lopez, who lost her husband Washi Ahmed on March 25. Ahmed, who managed a 7-Eleven in Valley Village, was stabbed to death while trying to stop a robbery.
“We were working at the 7-Eleven and this guy was taking things. He took some things, my husband confronted him and they started to argue. The guy took out a knife and he was running behind me. He stabbed me five times. My husband came and tried to push him, but he stabbed him in the heart,” Lopez said.
A homeless parolee, Hasaan Blunt, 42, was arrested for the crime. He is charged with murder and remains in custody.
“It’s been hard. I just try not to think of it so much,” said Lopez, 30, who was married to Ahmed for 10 years.
“This means that we’re remembering him,” she said as she put an ornament on the tree with the photograph of Ahmed, 55.
“Just A misunderstanding”
Also present was the family of Edgar Canaan.
At around 9:35 p.m. on Aug. 28, the 47-year-old Canaan and Moises Farias, 68, were killed following an argument at a Sylmar home that ended in a shooting.
Investigators believe an argument over noise earlier in the day may have sparked the shooting.
According to police, a group was in the front yard of the home when three suspects pulled up in a white vehicle and confronted the group. A gunman wearing a facial covering, possibly a bandana, fired multiple rounds at the victims, authorities reported.
Police said the suspects fled the scene in the white vehicle after the shooting.
“It was an altercation between gang members. Just bad timing,” said son Leonel Canaan, who along with siblings and relatives left a small ornament with his father’s image on it.
“It was just a misunderstanding,” Leonel said.
Just as families don’t forget the victims, neither do police. Each case presents its own challenges and is investigated thoroughly by detectives, who meet and bond with the victims’ families as they try to solve them.
Police sometimes also bear the difficult task of explaining the crime to relatives who will come to depend on them for support, and to keep them informed of where the investigation is going.
Robert Green, Deputy Chief for the LAPD’s Valley Bureau, noted the event can also “bring closure and help the victim’s families who have experienced homicide.”
Green said they hope this becomes an annual event to bring these families together.
“The idea is to do this year after year, and for them to stand with other victims of gun violence to support them as they go through the pain of losing loved ones,” Green said.
Through Nov. 26, the Valley Bureau had recorded 58 homicides, five more than last year through the same period.
A total of 70 people had been arrested for homicides.
An Unsolved Murder
But not all cases have been closed.
Maria Solloa and her family — many of them wearing black shirts with the photo of her son Jessie Lee Zamora on it — are still wondering why and who killed the 25-year-old.
About 1:40 a.m. on Oct. 20, Zamora was fatally shot in the 14000 block of Chamberlain Street in Pacoima.
According to police, Zamora was standing next to his vehicle when he was killed.
Detectives are still trying to determine if the assailant walked up to Zamora or shot from a car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“He went to visit one of his friends and they came and shot him,” said Solloa, who described her son as a young man with “a big heart.”
Zamora left two children, five siblings and a big family struggling to deal with his death.
“He didn’t deserve it. He was a dad to his nephews and nieces. It was a senseless murder,” Solloa said.
She wanted to attend the event because “it’s important to support my son,” and to show that gun violence leaves nothing but pain and suffering.
“There are families that are hurting. It’s the entire family that gets affected,” Solloa said.