The police were putting a sheet over a dead body when Ramona McClinton showed up. She scanned the growing, curious crowd for her boyfriend. She cell phoned him. A light came on under the sheet.
Ramona's story was one of the many heard Wednesday night in a meeting room with probably the highest concentration of heartache in this city. It was LAPD's 77th Street Division's "Tree Trimming", an annual event where family and friends of homicide victims gather to talk about their tragedies and how they are coping, receive toys from Santa and thank detectives.
The actual tree trimming occurs when photos of the homicide victims are secured to a Christmas tree in the lobby of LAPD's South Bureau on Broadway and 77th Street. Angie Moreno of the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office Victim Services is driving force of this somber event which started in 2002. Some of those remembered died years ago, Many others were killed this year.
"How robbed I feel. How violated I feel," said Jackie Walker, whose 24-year-old grandson Marcus Quinten Rogers was killed in March, 5 this year on 110th and Main streets. Moments later, Jackie rushed to the podium to support her daughter, Marcus' mother.
Patrice Morgan said she was so depressed over the death of her brother Keyonta Muhammad Ansari that she contemplated suicide. Ansari, 22, was shot in the back of the head on Van Ness Avenue near 53rd Street on his way to play basketball. Now she is forming her own victim's assistance program in his honor.
On and on the aching stories went. They talked about how the news of sudden death came to them and how it "seems like yesterday". How Christmas is so hard. How "you can lose a mom, you can lose a dad, but when you lose a child..."
Still, there was a common thread in everyone's talk, praise for the homicide detectives handling their loved one's case, even if it had yet to be solved.
Commander Bill Scott also lauded the murder cops. "There is not a more determined and dedicated group of detectives in the country, probably in the world, than the men and women of South Bureau's Criminal Gang Homicide Division. We can never say we know your pain. But, we understand it. It does matter to us."