“Love and miss you.”
“We love you sweet babygirl.”
“A big hug for you from mom.”
These were among the balloon-borne messages lofted into the golden dusk sky above Great Bend Cemetery North Sunday night. It was an evening filled with hugs, tears and laughter as family and friends of the slain Alicia DeBolt marked the first anniversary of the 14-year-old’s disappearance.
“Look upon us with favor as we remember the life and love of Alicia,” Family Crisis Center Director Laura Patzner said in her opening prayer. “Help us remember what she’s teaching us today.”
Potzner also asked those present to keep DeBolt’s memory close. “Help us to bring her with us into the future with eyes and hearts open, and ready to face what we have to face.”
Then, those gathered formed a large ring with DeBolt’s parents, family members and closest friends at the top.
The countdown rang out. “5-4-3-2-1.”
Simultaneously, they released their brightly colored balloons. They watched them rise toward the clouds.
“It looks like they’re making a shape,” a little girl shouted. She thought they looked like a heart. “They’re so beautiful.”
There were messages on T-shirts as well.
“I remember you.”
“The Aliciafied Experience – If I die young, make me a rainbow.”
Bracelets saying “I love Alicia DeBolt” will be sold as a fundraiser for the Family Crisis Center. “It’s our way of giving back,” said DeBolt’s sister, Dawn DeBolt. The center has worked closely with the family throughout its ordeal.
The ceremony was short, simple, sweet. Afterward, after the balloons had faded from view, many milled around, stood at DeBolt’s decorated grave and leaned on each other for support and comfort.
Among them were DeBolt’s classmates Cassie Joyce, her sister Vickie Crawford and Virginia Trimmer. The three clung to each other.
“This is like a remembrance of her after she’s gone,” said Crawford, adding she was Alicia’s best friend. “This is so no one ever forgets her. No one will ever forget her.”
Joyce held a small, hand-painted wooden cross her sister had made. They drove it into the rocky area around DeBolt’s headstone.
As the crowd dwindled, leaving the family and close friends along in the cemetery, the sun dipped below the evening horizon. This signalling the end of another day and another year without the teenaged girl they loved.
DeBolt was last seen at her house on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010, when she left for a party. Her mom reported her missing the next day and her body was found two days later.
Adam Joseph Longoria was arrested the following Friday and charged with capital murder in DeBolt’s death. In custody in Wichita, he awaits trial. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case in Barton County District Court, and the next court appearance is set for Oct. 5. There will be a preliminary hearing on amended charges filed in the case.
DeBolt would have been a freshman and a cheerleader at Great Bend High School in the fall of last year.