Most Viewed Stories
Yuba vigil supports families hurt by violent deaths
They're simple messages inked onto white balloons:
"We love you Pee Wee." "We miss you Manuel." "Chairo, you were the best sister in the world." "R.I.P. Coti."
But the symbolic gesture made at each year's Yuba County Victim/Witness Candlelight Vigil works as emotional shorthand for difficult memories and inexpressible loss.
On Sunday, about 200 attendees packed the county Probation Department's community room in Olivehurst to take part in the somber remembrance of loved ones lost to violence.
Sandy Friend, like many of those present Sunday, is an outspoken veteran of the grieving process.
She lost her son, Michael, age 8, in 1996, at the hands of twice-convicted sex offender Robert Rhoades of Sutter.
On Sunday, Friend recalled the day she returned home from work to find that her son had gone missing.
"My smiling little man wasn't there," she said of the boy she was constantly told by teachers and neighbors was "a sweet and kind person."
Hours of searching by neighbors, friends, family and strangers turned up nothing, until police reported that a child's body had been found in the Feather River more than two miles from the family's Yuba City home.
"It was the longest night in my life," Friend said.
"Somebody hurt my baby," she told the crowd. "Somebody took my baby away from me."
She now volunteers for Yuba-Sutter's Trauma Intervention Program, or TIP, which provides emotional support for witnesses and victims in emergency situations.
Michelle Blake, a Marysville native, spoke on Sunday about her sister, Nicole Bull, who was killed by a drug-impaired driver in 2003.
Nicole, she said, was 26, with a bachelor's degree in art history and a desire to attend graduate school.
After having worked at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, she decided to move back to the Central Valley to save money for graduate school.
"She was making new friends and she got to see her old friends from Marysville High," Blake said of her sister's move closer to home.
While stopped at a stop sign, a driver going more than 60 miles per hour rear-ended her car.
"He was high on methamphetamine," Blake said. "My sister was killed on impact."
Sunday's event was the 21st such service held in Olivehurst to remember victims.
Friend, a veteran of the format, was both comforting others and accepting comfort during the emotional evening.
Her close friend's son, Coti Leal, 16, died Saturday morning when the car he was riding in struck a utility pole and a parked car, then overturned on Feather River Boulevard. The driver allegedly was drunk.
Leal's friends and family were in attendance Sunday.
"It's been a sad couple of days," she said.
As the event moved outdoors, a teary-eyed Leticia Coronado, 16, stood apart from her friends with her arms folded.
"He was my friend. He lived across the street," she said of the friendly teenager from Linda who died in the Feather River Boulevard crash.
"The guy shouldn't have been driving. He shouldn't have been driving," she said.
Victims' family members let go of their balloon strings as the name of their deceased loved one was called, and the balloons floated away.
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.