More than 100 people gathered Wednesday morning on a cold, windy hillside above Mozingo Lake to take part in Maryville's annual tribute to those victimized by acts of crime and violence.
The crowd included police officers, parole officers, court officials, corrections administrators, social workers, counselors and others whose jobs involve the criminal justice system. Also among the participants were family members and friends of victims, or people who have themselves suffered loss or injury at the hands of those who violate the law.
The ceremony began as members of Maryville High School's Spectrum Show choir, each holding a green-bound Baptist Hymnal, sang "Amazing Grace" in simple, four-square harmony.
As in past years, the event was organized by the Maryville Treatment Center and the District 40 Probation and Parole Office. Located just east of town, MTC is a state prison that houses 500-plus inmates serving time for various substance abuse-related offenses.
A tradition here for more than 15 years, the 2013 "tree-planting and awareness" ceremony was especially poignant for those still holding fresh memories of Tomarken Smith, a Northwest Missouri State University student killed last September in an assault outside a Maryville bar.
Northwest's Vice President of Student Affairs Matt Baker, who paid tribute to Smith during the ceremony, said he would never forget the early morning call informing him of the young man's death, nor the tears of hundreds of Northwest students who attended a hastily organized vigil on campus that evening.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has," said Baker, quoting the late cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.
A second recent tragedy resulting from criminal violence was evoked by keynote speaker George Lombardi, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections and a friend and former colleague of slain Colorado DOC Executive Director Tom Clements.
Clements was shot dead at his home in Monument, Colo., presumably by a former prison inmate and white supremacist gang member who was killed during a high-speed chase with Texas police two days after Clements' death.
During his remarks, Lombardi summarized Missouri's efforts to protect the rights and welfare of crime victims, an initiative, he said, that began well before passage of a victims' rights amendment to the state Constitution in 1992.
The amendment guarantees victims the right to be present at all criminal justice proceedings involving defendants, including juvenile proceedings where the offense would have been a felony if committed by an adult.
Under the amendment, victims also have the right to be informed of and to testify at plea hearings, bail hearings, sentencings, probation revocation hearings and parole hearings.
In emphasizing his department's commitment to victims' rights, Lombardi called on parole officers, prison guards and other DOC employees to recommit themselves to affecting offenders' lives in ways that dissuade them from harming others once their term behind bars is served.