Children Caught In Middle Of Holiday Tree Controversy

Renewed outrage tonight over the protest at Rhode Island's Holiday Tree Lighting. Crowds at Tuesday night's event caroled against Governor Chafee and his refusal to call the State House spruce a Christmas Tree.

But now, some local parents said they're not happy for another reason. Their children were at the lighting to celebrate the season and were caught in the middle of the controversy.

Dozens of those kids were seeing the State House for the very first time, singing to celebrate the holiday. They were supposed to meet the governor, but parents said instead they saw some adults being disrespectful.

They feel the main performance of the State House holiday tree lighting, the Rhode Island Children's Chorus, fell by the wayside Tuesday night.

Parents said the group of 80 singers was interrupted by protesters. “They were in the middle of 'Holly Jolly Christmas' and all these adults started to sing and they drowned the children out,” said mom Denise Davis, “They were singing 'Oh Christmas Tree' and one of the things that was so upsetting is it was so planned.”

Ten year old Olivia Yonkmae was on the risers singing at the time. “It just felt like they were trying to disrupt us and doing what they weren't supposed to do, even though we asked them not to,” she said, “It was just chaos.”

The fifth grader was supposed to meet Governor Lincoln Chafee and get a photo, but that didn't happen because the governor left the event right after the tree was lit, and some parents said that's because of all the protesters.

 “It was a huge distraction,” said dad Todd Yonkmae, “I mean, the folks with the signs and they're really kind of detracting from what the children were trying to do.”

Chorus directors said there's one positive to all this, the kids learned just how good they can be under pressure. “Although these people were singing loudly over them, they just continued as they always do and they really are a professional group,” said director Christine Noel.

Protest organizer and WPRO talk radio host John Depetro told ABC6 the group never meant to interrupt the children's chorus. He said they started caroling after the kids finished a song.      Depetro added, the protesters planned to sing over the speaking part of last night's program, which never happened.