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LAPD station brings victims' loved ones together in holiday tradition

LAPD station brings victims' loved ones together in holiday tradition
Vannetta Gray, right, fights back tears as she looks at a Christmas ornament hung in remembrance of her son Jacoby Plummer, during the annual tree-trimming gathering at the LAPD's 77th Street Community station. (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times)

Jocella Hurd Collins' holiday routine changed forever in 2001, the year her 26-year-old son was killed one week before Christmas.

Each year to remember her son, Cedric Hurd, she creates an ornament decorated with his name and face. Usually, it's shaped as a heart.

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Then she takes the ornament to the LAPD's 77th Street Community police station and places it on a tree in the lobby.

The tree-trimming event is unique. No other L.A. station holds a similar ceremony. But in a district where detectives handle about 40% of the city's homicides each year, it has become a somber tradition since it began, the same year Cedric Hurd was shot to death.

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Wednesday night, after the ornaments were placed on the tree, those gathered walked into a bare room normally reserved for news conferences. There were cookies and coffee. People shared memories of the dead and talked about their enduring pain.

The more seasoned detectives say they've learned to stand near the door, so when their eyes well with tears, they can step outside. For the new detectives, the event is a reminder of the importance of their work.

Elaine Brown, whose son, Fenton Brown Jr., was killed two days after his 19th birthday, said when she first came to the police station, she didn't have any hope. Two days after the killing, she said, the suspects were in custody. When she took the podium, she told her story in an effort to offer others hope.

"Sometimes it's easy; sometimes it's hard," she said. "But don't give up."

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Other speakers talked about getting involved in the community. A grandmother described how when her grandson was shot in broad daylight, someone went through his pockets and took his cellphone and belt. A mother told the crowd: "Please don't let what happened define you."

In the lobby, two men stared at a simple ornament of an iridescent star that hung on the tree in honor of their brother, Eddy Lewis Jr., 28, who was shot in October.

"He enjoyed life, tried to make people laugh," said his brother Thyron Lewis.

Annie McGee, who also came for the first time this year, placed an ornament on the tree of her son, Sidney McGee, a 48-year-old who was killed outside a liquor store in Florence in May. He was shot four times in the chest, she said.

"It just happened," she said.

Earlier, Hurd Collins addressed the group.

"I know each and every one of you has suffered," she said.

"That never goes away."

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For more on homicides in Los Angeles County, go to homicide.latimes.com.

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