Vonda Sanders shared a message to her late son before placing an ornament in his memory on the Christmas “tree of eternal love.”
“This is not a goodbye,” said Sanders, fighting back tears, “but a see you later until I can spread my wings as you have done my son. I will forever love you unconditionally, with all my heart and soul. May God keep you with eternal peace as I keep you with eternal love.”
This year marks the first Christmas that Sanders is without her only son, Da’Travious “Bubba” Hoskins, who was fatally stabbed on Sept. 17 during an argument over a PlayStation 3. Hoskins was just 18.
As a way to remember him, Sanders gathered Thursday night with five other mothers, all of whom lost their sons to violent crime, to hang ornaments on a Christmas tree inside the front lobby of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Joining Hoskins’ picture on the 10-foot tree are the faces of Tyrone Cathcart, Marqeuz Eubanks, Corey Joseph, Anthony DeWayne King and James “JD” Paugh.
The women are part of the Angel Hearts Support Group, an initiative of Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree and his executive assistant, Von Daniels, whose own son, 21-year-old Corey Joseph, was shot to death in 2007 by a man he had given a ride.
The group started in October as a way for parents of slain children to commiserate once a month.
“This time of year, it’s depressing,” Daniels said. “This is the first year for some of them. It’s going to be really hard. I just want them to know they’re not alone, that we care.
“The sheriff’s office cares about them and how they feel and about their loved ones, even though they’re not here. We don’t want them to think that they’ve been forgotten.”
Before hanging the ornaments, the mothers and other family members joined hands in prayer, led by the Rev. Melvin Ivey.
“Sometimes in life, we go through some things, and one of the keys is being able to call someone else who shares that same thing that you are dealing with,” Ivey said. “Don’t be afraid to call on one another and share with one another ... when you’re strong and the that person is weak, you are to help them go through that time.”
For some mothers circled around the tree, the wounds of loss were still fresh, while others have had more time to deal with the grief. Still, it never gets easier, said Anita Paugh.
“No matter how long ago it’s been, it gets very emotional,” she said. “But it helps – this group – it helps to be with them. We’re all in the same boat. We’ve all been through the same.”
Paugh lost her son, Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy James “JD” Paugh, on Oct. 23 2011 as he was on his way home from the fair and had pulled his motorcycle to the side of Bobby Jones Expressway to check on a suspicious vehicle. Christopher Michael Hodges, 26, who was drunken and arguing with his girlfriend, immediately fired at the deputy with an assault rifle. After killing the deputy, Hodges took his own life.
“It’s not normal to lose your child,” she said. “You just have to keep going.”
Before the women left for home, Daniels reminded them to call her anytime if they needed a friend to talk to, and that together, they could get through the pain.
The tree, she remarked on a lighter note, looked much more complete decorated with the images of their loved ones.
“This tree looks better than it did when we came in here,” she said. “It’s gorgeous, and now it has all the things on it that makes it Christmas.”