Candlelight vigil honors young victim
| Marcus Clem editor in chief |
The evening had dipped below freezing after sundown and a howling wind made it feel that much colder. The grouping of candles placed in honor of a murdered 10-year-old girl fought the elements, and mostly stayed lit.
So did the spirits of the eight people who stood by through the 20-minute ceremony in Pittsburg State’s campus Oval to pay respects to the memory of Hailey Owens.
“I was very surprised that people showed up,” said Austin Stapleton, event organizer and sophomore in music education.
Stapleton, a member of the Canterbury Club, an organization sponsored by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on 306 W. Euclid in Pittsburg, decided to follow the example of vigils being held throughout Missouri and the region.
One, in Springfield, Mo., Owens’ hometown and the location of her death, saw a turnout of more than 10,000. The cold would hold Stapleton’s effort from getting anything near that kind of response, but for him, the thematic message was the important part.
“Her light was important not only to the people who knew her,” he said, “but also to the world.”
Michael Griffin says the burden of coming out into the winter evening was a small sacrifice for what the event meant.
“We wanted to make it clear that she was not just another case of someone who was just a victim,” said Griffin, sophomore in justice studies, “that she meant something to someone, even to those who did not know her personally.”
News of the case spread worldwide, published even in some international media, when on Feb. 18, Owens was kidnapped from her neighborhood in broad daylight before many witnesses. Within hours, she would be dead.
Springfield police used witness information to track the owner of the pickup truck the kidnapper was driving. When they found Craig Michael Wood, a middle-school teacher’s aide, he had duct tape in his hand and his basement smelled thickly of bleach.
Owens’ body was later found there, and Wood was charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and child kidnapping.
“The man who did this couldn’t have possibly really known or believed in God in his heart,” said Misty Pietrzac, a Joplin resident who attended the Pitt State vigil. “It was a horrid thing to hear about.”
Stapleton says that the memory of Owens needs to be about her loss, not the crime that caused it.
“I want to refrain from giving the suspect any of the spotlight because I do not feel like he deserves to be talked about,” he said. “All of this should be about Hailey and her family.”