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People lost in grief find company at curbside shrine

In a steady stream, mourners bring offerings to Main Street memorial


News-Times Photo: Chase AllgoodSaturday, Oct. 19, Alma Hernandez brought her camera and her two children around the corner from her house to a huge pile of fallen leaves on Main Street. There beneath an old maple tree, Hernandez snapped photos of Benny, 2, and Hazel, 8, playing in the thigh-high leaf mountain.

The next evening, Hernandez rounded the corner again, this time drawn by sirens to the same tree where her children had played the day before. There had been a horrible accident with two young girls whose father had been taking photos of them in the leaves, just as her family had done.

Last Monday Hernandez was back again, posting a note of love and comfort to the tree, where a small shrine was growing for the parents and their daughters, Anna Dieter-Eckerdt, who died at the scene, and Abigail Robinson, who would die later that night.

Thursday afternoon, Hernandez returned with daughter Hazel, who left her own separate notes to Abby and Anna on the tree.

That day, she was one of more than 30 people who came and went at the shrine in the space of one hour, most bearing balloons or flowers to add to the pile. There were middle-aged men, an older woman, a 12-year-old girl, moms with kids, dads with kids, Latinos, whites. They came in cars, on bikes and on foot, with dogs and with strollers. Some cried. Some prayed. Some talked with strangers.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - The memorial to Anna, Abby and their parents started Monday, Oct. 21, the day after the accident (above) and grew quickly each day after that. By Thursday afternoon (below), it held more than 100 balloons and more than 130 stuffed animals.

Two men who came alone happened to connect after they realized they’d both attended Central School years ago.

Kristine Varde, 12, came alone too. She’d already added her stuffed pink dog to the pile—the dog her dad had won for her at the state fair a few years ago. Varde, who knew Abby from school, said she chose the dog because she wanted to offer up something meaningful. “I thought because it was important to me, it would be important to her.”

Before adding the dog to the pile, Varde bought huge hoop earrings to stick through its ears because she remembered how Abby liked to wear hoop earrings. “She was the only one who could pull that off,” Varde said.

Jamie Layton detoured from her trip to the feed store to stop by with her stepsons, Quinton Weaver and Hunter Weaver, 11 and 3. Quinton had gone to school with Abby at Tom McCall Upper Elementary. He’d learned about her death on the news.

It was a shock to him but, unfortunately for an 11-year-old, not the first such shock.

Among the many notes to Anna and Abby were three from their mom, Susan Dieter-Robinson, who wrote on to each of her daughters and one to both of them:  You were my everything & I am so proud to be your Mama.... You were both not only beautiful on the outside but just as beautiful on the inside... I love you soooooo much.“He lost his mom about six months ago,” Layton said.

Layton remembered when one of her own friends died, due to an unexpectedly severe epileptic seizure, back when they were both in high school. “It was the hardest thing I’d ever dealt with,” she said.

By Thursday, the shrine held more than 100 balloons and more than 130 stuffed animals, from giant penguins and lions to tiny dolphins, bears and dogs, as well as an army of candles to light the scene at night. Endless bouquets of all kinds of flowers joined notes, framed photos, statues, jack-o’-lanterns, along with inexplicable offerings that carried secret meanings for their donors, such as a jigsaw puzzle still in its box and a dollhouse-sized grandfather clock.

Susan Dieter-Robinson and Tom Robinson plan to donate the flowers to local assisted-living centers and the stuffed animals to some of the girls’ friends, and several worthy organizations.



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