LAWRENCEVILLE - For one painful year, Yvette Smalls has lived without her only brother, Tremayne E. Smalls - a big guy whose soccer friends once nicknamed "Tree."
Smalls, 27, was gunned down a year ago in a Norcross apartment complex. Ever since the still-unsolved murder, Yvette Smalls has helped to care for her bother's three kids.
On Tuesday night, she lit a candle for "Tree" and prayed.
"It's been a hard year, especially Thanksgiving," said Yvette Smalls, wearing a T-shirt bearing her brother's ironed-on likeness.
Yvette Smalls joined about 60 other friends and family of Gwinnettians who've died at the hands of violent crime, all huddled in prayer for the annual Crime Victims' Candlelight Vigil.
The vigil honored the lives of 44 homicide victims - the most Gwinnett has recorded in a single year. All names were added to a Victim's Memory Tree in a public space at the county's judicial headquarters.
"This really isn't my favorite time of year," said District Attorney Danny Porter, who's spent at least one holiday 12 of the last 14 years at homicide scenes. "I hope one day we won't have to have this (vigil)."
Guest speaker Melvin Everson, R-Snellville, decried the senseless violence that "snuffs out" young people's lives prematurely. He vowed to "make sure legislation is passed that will consider victims first," he said.
Organizer Stan Hall, director of the Victim Witness Program, slowly read the 44 victims' names before a poignant bagpipe tribute pushed many into outwardly emotional territory.
"May God rest each and every soul that's been mentioned here tonight," said Hall.
Clutching a little candle, Yvette Smalls said the vigil offered solace, if only temporarily.
"You don't even know people, but it's a connection," she said. "It shows they care."