Police in Maryland put together a Christmas surprise for a family suffering from loss this holiday season, and the grateful family is paying it forward.
Almost one year ago, evil men stole the life of father of three Billy Owens Smith, murdering him in his own home. This year, his family will celebrate their first Christmas without him.
On Jan. 17, Smith, a 41-year-old youth coach, was stabbed to death by three masked men as his son watched in horror, WUSA-TV reports. Police have since arrested and charged three individuals with his murder, but justice alone hasn't eased the pain experienced by the Smith family.
"He was such a blessing to others," Billy's wife, Kristina Smith, said. "I feel like I just need to keep his memory alive and let the world know what a good person he was and what was taken from us."
Christmas traditions are just not the same this year as the three Smith children lost their father. Every year, Billy would buy candy canes to decorate the Christmas tree and would hoist up one of his children to place the star upon it. This year 10-year-old Layla, the family's youngest daughter, topped the tree by herself.
"Trying to do those things to help keep his memory alive has helped us, but it is hard," Kristina said. "This was his favorite time of year."
But on Saturday, Greenbelt, Maryland, police surprised the Smith family to give them some Christmas cheer. When Layla answered a knock on the front door, she found Santa Claus had come with some officers bearing gifts.
"She's 10 and it just made her day, and seeing her happy and excited made me happy, because her happiness is really how it gets me through from day to day," Kristina said.
She told WUSA that her late husband would use the holidays as an opportunity to give back to the community, and she wants to continue his legacy this year.
Kristina, a first grade teacher at Cherokee Lane Elementary School, worked alongside the school to set up a donation drive in December, collecting money, clothing, and food to share with families in need.
"It's helping me deal with the grief and it's also helping families at my school that really could use the extra love and help, because it's been tough with COVID," Kristina said. "The neighborhood my school was in has been pretty hard hit, and families are struggling."
So far they've raised $3,000 and are still collecting donations. According to WUSA, the donation drive will set up a "store" where 24 families who signed up to "shop" will be given the money collected to purchase items they need.
"So many people have given me so much support and my kids so much support, so I feel like it's just my way of paying it forward, because that's what he would want us to do," Kristina said.