A southwest Missouri community turned out by the thousands Saturday night to pay homage to a 10-year-old girl whose life abruptly ended last week at the hands of a man who police say abducted her from her quiet Springfield neighborhood in broad daylight.
The family of Hailey Owens, a fourth-grader who was killed Tuesday a block from her home, attended a candlelight vigil in her memory and led a procession down Springfield’s Commercial Street, the Springfield News-Leader reported.
The local chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse walked with family members as thousands of others lined sidewalks along the route, raising flickering candles and chanting Hailey’s name.
“Tonight is about Hailey, not the crime,” said Angel Boeddeker, a Springfield resident who came to the event with yellow ribbons for participants to wear.
Springfield city spokeswoman Cora Scott estimated there were about 10,000 participants, who brought their own candles and were given Boeddeker’s yellow ribbons. Many also wore pink and purple, which were Hailey’s favorite colors.
Hailey’s family clung close together as they walked, with her mother, Stacey Barfield, sobbing throughout.
“I came because I saw the video of the mother on the news,” said Donna Rivers of Springfield. “It was really important to her. She really felt the support when we do things like this.”
Ann Etta and her husband, Richard – who are close friends with the Barfields – made a large banner with Hailey’s picture and walked with the family.
The family is doing “as good as can be expected,” Ann Etta said, struggling to remain composed.
At the end of the walk, Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Seifried addressed the crowd.
“There are no words to describe our community’s broken heart,” Seifried said. “There are no words to describe our frustration. The unthinkable has happened in our community.”
Craig Michael Wood, who was a middle school football coach for 16 years, has been charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action in the girl’s death.
According to court records, Hailey’s body was found in Wood’s basement, stuffed into trash bags and plastic containers, and prosecutors said she was shot in the back of the head.
Wood, who is being held without bond in Greene County Jail, has pleaded not guilty.