April 7, 2007 - Euless, Texas
On February 15, 1998, Amy Robinson was riding her bicycle to work when she met two of her co-workers on the street, Michael Wayne Hall and Robert Neville. Amy, a mentally challenged young woman of 19, worked at a local grocery store in Arlington, Texas. Arlington is a town of approximately 300,000 people located between Dallas and Fort Worth. The two young fellows told Amy they were going for a ride and talked Amy into putting her bicycle in the back of their pickup truck and to come along for the ride. That was the last time anyone saw Amy alive.
A few days later, Amy's body was found in a densely wooded area in far northeast Tarrant County, just outside the Fort Worth city limits. She had been shot numerous times with a 22-caliber handgun. The brutal and totally senseless murder shocked the City of Arlington and the entire Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. Her two co-workers were quickly arrested and confessed to police that it was just a random act of violence. They were simply looking for a thrill, or as they described it, "we were just looking for something to do." Both were found guilty at their trials and both were given the death penalty. Robert Neville was executed Februry 8, 2006 and Michael Wayne Hall is still on death row awaiting his execution.
Amy's grandmother, Carolyn Barker, who was raising Amy at the time of the murder, later placed a single wooden cross at the scene of Amy's death as a roadside memorial. A few months later, the family of Vern Price, who was also a murder victim, came across the roadside memorial and they put a cross next to Amy's. Some time later, the family of Chad Houston, another murder victim, placed a cross at the site. Slowly, the site began to grow as word of mouth spread about the spot with "the white crosses." This was the beginning of Our Garden of Angels.
Carolyn Barker decided to start a homicide memorial park dedicated to the memories of loved ones who had been murdered. It is the first and only homicide memorial park in the United States, and quite possibly the world.. The park was officially opened in February of 2000. Crosses are placed at the park in memory of loved ones who lost their lives at the hands of others. The park quickly grew in size and private donations from corporations across the Dallas-Ft. Worth area helped with the care and maintenance of the park. Today, the park is run by President Greg Price, who also makes the memorial crosses for the park, and Vice-President Ric Nesbit. Both men have relatives that were murdered and a bond quickly developed between them and Mrs. Barker. They agreed to take over the day-to-day operation of the park. It is through their efforts and those of many volunteers that the park has become a national symbol of the victim's rights movement in the United States.
Starting in late 2005, through a donation of $75,000.00 from Southwest Airlines, the park began a major renovation complete with bricked walking paths, custom iron work fences and gates, a continuously flowing stream and waterfall, plus major landscaping detail work was done throughout the park. Sometime later land was donated across the street from the original park to expand the park to over 4-5 acres in size. A "meditation" gazebo was built on the new land and new crosses were added as well.
Saturday, April 7 2007, the day before Easter, marked the seventh anniversary of the opening of the park. A memorial service was held featuring guest speakers and live music. The day was overcast, windy, and extremely cold with snow flurries in the forecast. It turned out to be the coldest day in April in Texas in the last 69 years. April 7 is also Amy's birthday.
I arrived an hour early to shoot the park before the ceremony began. It is an eerie feeling walking alone among the many white crosses. The top of each cross states the victim's date of birth and the date of death is at the bottom. The one thing that becomes immediately apparent is that this is a living, breathing park. Many of the crosses are adorned with flowers, mementos, and odd and unusual items that once belonged to the victims. Except for an occasional car or truck passing by, it is quiet in the park. There is a beautiful bronze statue of two children playing, that at first sight, seems to be out of place. Later, Greg Price explained to me that the park has come to represent much more than just a memorial place with crosses. It is an "affirmation of life" he told me. Greg described how in the beginning he, Ric Nesbit, and Carolyn Barker wanted this park to be for the living, for the survivors of the victims.
Slowly, a small crowd started to gather, including several children. Many walked amongst the crosses, pausing here and there to read, to touch, sometimes to brush away a tear. Others hugged and laughed quietly as they recognized old friends, brought together by terrible circumstances. At one point, I put the camera down, sat down on one of the benches, and just watched. It is indeed a park about the living, about the survivors that carry on day to day, year to year.
Children come to the park and play, adults come to sit and reflect on the memories of their loved ones and each spring volunteers plant new flowers and trees. It is a breathing and living memorial to those who are gone, but never forgotten. Greg told me "we celebrate life here, not death." Perhaps Amy's grandmother, Carolyn said it best "We are about kindness, hope for tomorrow, and helping others." Then she turned away briefly and looked back and said. "Besides, today is Amy's birthday. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate her life than to be right here, today."
UPDATE: February 15, 2011. Micahel Wayne Hall was executed today for the murder of Amy Robinson- exactly 13 years to the day that Amy was killed.
© Rick Waldroup Photography