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The headlines don't tell the whole story. "Invisible Victims" is a KERA News project that focuses on gun-related deaths that often don't make the headlines.

A Fort Worth mom lost her daughter to gun violence — but found a supportive sisterhood

Tricia Hanson Sapp feeds Milo a treat while sitting on a bench dedicated to her daughter, Sara, who was a victim of gun violence Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023, at Quail Ridge Park in Fort Worth.
Yfat Yossifor
Tricia Hanson Sapp feeds Milo a treat while sitting on a bench at Quail Ridge Park in Fort Worth dedicated to her daughter, Sara, who was a victim of gun violence.

There’s a park near Tricia Hanson Sapp’s home in southwest Fort Worth that she calls Princess Park.

The princess was her daughter, Sara, who was shot and killed in 2020. On a sweltering summer morning, Hanson Sapp sat in the park on Sara’s memorial bench, wrangling Sara's old dog, Milo: a 100-pound half Boxer, half German Shepherd who’s “smart as a whip,” Hanson Sapp said.

In that, he reminds her of Sara, who excelled in school and dreamed of becoming a pediatric ICU nurse. The pain Hanson Sapp feels over her daughter’s killing defies explanation, she said.

"A piece of you is gone for the rest of your life, and the pain that comes with it is insurmountable, like no other pain,” she said. “It’s just gut-wrenching. And that doesn't even seem a strong enough word to describe the pain."

The last time Hanson Sapp saw her daughter was in August 2020, when she came by to drop Milo off before leaving for Louisiana on a weekend trip with her boyfriend, Hanson Sapp said. According to Bossier City, La. police, he shot and killed Sara in their hotel room. He’s now awaiting trial for murder.

When Sara died, Hanson Sapp joined the growing number of parents who have lost children to gun violence. Regular grief counseling didn't encompass what Hanson Sapp was feeling, she said. She started looking for other parents in the same situation, and she found A Memory Grows: A Fort Worth-based nonprofit that offers weekend retreats for parents who have lost children. That includes a special retreat specifically for parents who have lost kids to homicide.

The other women Hanson Sapp met at her retreat are now her sisters, and through that community she’s gained a new life, she said.

"When people talk about a reawakening, I don't think I could really understand that until this retreat,” she said. “It just changes your perspective, where you realize you’re gonna make it through.”

A gray granite plaque is set in a concrete sidewalk. It reads "Sara Elizabeth Hanson memorial, 1995-2020. Sara brought a ray of sunshine to us. She will always be remembered for her bright, cheerful persona & the sweet, warm smile with which she greeted life & people she met."
Yfat Yossifor
A plaque dedicating a bench to Sara Hanson at Quail Ridge Park in Fort Worth.

A Memory Grows

DeAndrea Dare is a United Methodist minister based in Fort Worth, and she knows what it’s like to lose a child. In 2013, she was expecting her first baby, Max, but he was unexpectedly stillborn.

"I went into a very dark place,” Dare said. “My husband and I had a very good relationship, but we didn't know what to do with each other. We didn't know what to do with ourselves."

Dare found that well-meaning people didn’t understand the loss. She heard dismissive cliches, like “He’s in a better place,” or “You’re so young, you could try again.” She felt desperate to meet other people who had lost children, who might understand the complexity of what she was feeling.

Dare needed to talk about her feelings to process them, she said. She found an opportunity for that in northern Wisconsin, at Faith’s Lodge, a nonprofit that offers retreats for families who have lost children. At the retreat, Dare and her husband met five other couples.

"Our children had all died within the last year, and we all had very, very different stories, but a very similar journey and path, and that made all the difference in the world,” Dare said. “It was there that I felt like a little bit of me was still there.”

A portrait of DeAndrea Dare, a white woman with short dirty blonde hair. She smiles for the camera in front of a soft white background, sitting on an orange chair.
DeAndrea Dare
DeAndrea Dare founded the nonprofit A Memory Grows to offer parents the same kind of community she found after losing her son Max.

When she and her husband returned to Texas, Dare resolved to start something like Faith’s Lodge to serve Dallas-Fort Worth.

But Dare didn’t act on that impulse for another two years, she said. What gave her that push was a “monumental moment” — a conversation during a walk, with some people who knew about her son’s death.

"Somebody said to me, ‘DeAndrea, it has been nearly two years since Max died, and we're very worried about you, because you still say his name,'" Dare said.

Dare’s immediate response was rage, but she reined it in.

"I was thankfully in a better place where I was able to take a deep breath,” Dare remembered. “And I said, I will always say his name, because he will always be my son, and I will always love him."

Dare went home to her husband that night and said, “I think it’s time to figure this out.”

Dare established an organization in 2015, to offer the same kind of retreats she found so helpful at Faith’s Lodge. Its name — A Memory Grows — reflects the fact that the parent-child relationship doesn’t end when the child dies. It also matches up with her son’s initials: Anderson Maxwell Graham.

 A close-up of a woman's hands as she lights a candle in a long row of candles.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
A candle was lit for each victim of the Robb Elementary School shooting, at a Fort Worth vigil commemorating the shooting's anniversary on May 24, 2023. The vigil was hosted by DeAndrea Dare's nonprofit, A Memory Grows.

The career change wasn’t much of a stretch for Dare. As a United Methodist minister, death has been part of her work for a long time, she said. While serving at a church in Fort Worth, a big part of her job was making hospital visits. Earlier in her career, she was the chaplain in the burn unit at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. In college, she even worked at a funeral home.

A Memory Grows is not a religious organization, and Dare doesn’t bring God into things unless someone asks her to, Dare said.

As of July, people from 17 different states and Canada have attended child loss retreats through A Memory Grows. Retreats are categorized for specific types of loss, like infant loss, suicide or homicide deaths, and they’re a mix of therapy, activities and open conversation.

There’s also online support groups and in-person events throughout the year. In May, A Memory Grows held a vigil in downtown Fort Worth for the first anniversary of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde.

 A photo of a woman with her arms around two children. All of them hold lit white candles and look solemn.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
Fort Worth Report
People gathered in May for a vigil at First United Methodist Church in downtown Fort Worth, organized by A Memory Grows, to mark the first anniversary of the Robb Elementary School shooting.

Not long ago, grief was something to be shoved under a rug and never addressed, Dare said. But that has consequences. Studies show the more someone avoids grief, the harder it is to adapt.

“So many turn to drugs and alcohol and relationships that aren't healthy,” Dare said. “Anger turns to bitterness and breaks families apart. How do we take that love and do something good with it?”

Dare tries to teach people what she calls productive grieving— sharing pain with a community and putting it towards something, like she put hers towards A Memory Grows.

"Love does carry on. It doesn't end,” Dare said. “Death doesn’t end the fact that I love my son and that I'm still his mom."

'That was life changing'

A Memory Grows held its first homicide-focused retreat in July 2022. So far, all participants in the homicide retreats have lost their children to gun violence.

Dare has recognized unique challenges in dealing with this kind of loss. When someone loses a child to a disease, there's no one person to blame. In homicides, there is, and surviving families have to endure the slow churn of the criminal justice system, sometimes waiting years for a trial, Dare said.

When Tricia Hanson Sapp got to the bed and breakfast in Granbury for her homicide retreat, she remembers sitting in her car, wondering what to do, before Dare came out to get her. The first person she saw was a woman with a comfort dog, there to greet the attendees.

Hanson Sapp was one of the first to arrive, and she said it was strange to look around at the other mothers there and not know them yet, to not know their stories, she said.

"At the end, we were like sisters, and we did not want to part,” she said.

Milo, Sara’s dog, with Tricia Hanson Sapp at Quail Ridge Park in Fort Worth. Hanson Sapp was watching Milo while her daughter was traveling with her boyfriend when she was shot and killed 3 years ago.
Yfat Yossifor
Milo, Sara’s dog, with Tricia Hanson Sapp Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023, at Quail Ridge Park in Fort Worth. Hanson Sapp was watching Milo while her daughter was traveling with her boyfriend when she was shot and killed 3 years ago.

Hanson Sapp found herself opening up through the retreat’s activities. At one point, the moms put clay pots into pillowcases and were told to smash them.

"I shouted some bad words when I did that,” Hanson Sapp said. “They could see my real anger at that point, because I don't really show it around people.”

The next step is putting the pot back together in any way they choose, Dare said. The pot will never be the same, and the task might seem impossible, but there’s a message she wants to get across.

"I'll remind them, look, you're here somehow. Today you got out of bed, and you packed a bag, and you drove to this place with somebody you didn't know, and a group of people that you've never met before, to share your heart, the beauty and the brokenness of it all,” Dare said. “Look at what you’ve already done."

'A piece of you is gone' Mother recalls learning her daughter was shot and killed

On the last night, Hanson Sapp and the other moms made quilt squares to commemorate their children. Hanson Sapp brought up how much she loves music, and the songs she played at Sara’s funeral. The others asked to hear some of the songs, she said, and she put one on: “Dancing in the Sky” by Dani and Lizzy.

Soon, the other moms were singing along and requesting songs of their own. Hanson Sapp put on some Aretha Franklin.

“Three of us got up and just danced and danced, and we played Aretha after Aretha after Aretha,” she said. “DeAndrea was up in the stairwell laughing.”

After they danced, Hanson Sapp sat down and had an epiphany, she said.

"What am I feeling right now?” she wondered. “Oh, I'm feeling fun and happiness. And I hadn't felt that in years. Not even a little bit, until that moment. That was life changing."

Hanson Sapp still has to face the trial for the suspect charged in her daughter’s killing. But now she has the women from A Memory Grows to lean on.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at You can follow Miranda on X @MirandaRSuarez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.