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Annual ceremony remembers crime victims

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Kristen Woods Craig, left, and her mother, Jenene, are seen through a wreath during a program Monday in recognition of National Crime Victim's Rights Week. The wreath was hung on the door of the district attorney. The two were at the event to honor their father and husband, Keith Woods, who was killed in 2001 in a vehicular homicide.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Kristen Woods Craig, left, and her mother, Jenene, are seen through a wreath during a program Monday in recognition of National Crime Victim's Rights Week. The wreath was hung on the door of the district attorney. The two were at the event to honor their father and husband, Keith Woods, who was killed in 2001 in a vehicular homicide.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- While Mary Allen gave a heartbreaking speech about the loss of her daughter, her 3-year-old grandson pointed happily to her at the podium.

The boy, whom she did not want to identify, is the reason she and her husband Buddy have chosen to seek out joy despite their loss.

"Our lives are like Swiss cheese. Everything we do, forever, there is a hole there," Allen said about the murder of Heather Allen Strube in 2009. "We decided early on we needed joy because our grandchild, who is now our child, needs joy. I'm defining joy as journey to a new life."

The family placed a wreath of magnolias Monday as part of an annual ceremony remembering crime victims in Gwinnett County.

The Allens do not talk to their grandson about the crime that took his mother, just after a custody exchange in the parking lot of a Snellville Target store two years ago. He will not be back in the courthouse next month when Strube's mother-in-law Joanna Hayes will be on trial on murder charges.

But they thought it was fitting to bring him to Monday's ceremony.

"I think it's important that he experience it on the level a 3-year-old can," Mary Allen said. "I felt like this was something that related to his mommy. ... She will always be remembered."

Stan Hall, the head of the district attorney's victim-witness program, said it is important for law enforcement and judicial officials to remember the people who are impacted by crimes, and ceremonies like the one Monday help.

"While it is their day to be recognized, perhaps it is our day to be reminded that these cases are not about statistics and trends. They are much more than evidence and probable cause and criminal statistics," Hall said. "Each case file that we open up is about people, people just like all of us here today. And on any given day, we too could walk the path that so many of them have been forced to traverse."

A decade ago, Kristen Woods Craig lost her father. Hall remembers hoisting the girl onto a box so she could read a poem at a ceremony years ago.

Today, she will sign a college scholarship, but the joy will be measured without her dad to witness it.

"It gets easier to wake up, but it never gets easier to not have him here," the Archer High School senior said Monday.

Year after year, she comes to the ceremony to recognize victims. "Other people are still hurting," she said.