'You're in our hearts today and every other day,' Melissa Graves told the crowd on what would have been her son's third birthday

By Nicole Weisensee Egan
Updated September 04, 2016 01:15 PM
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Hundreds of friends and neighbors gathered Saturday and released thousands of balloons to celebrate what would have been the third birthday of Lane Graves, the toddler killed by an alligator at Orlando’s Disney World in mid-June.

“Happy birthday Laney,” a tearful Melissa Graves told the crowd gathered at the Elkhorn South High School football field in Elkhorn, Nebraska.

“Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like to speak but, my baby, I owe it to him to honor him,” she said. “So his mommy needed to say, ‘Happy birthday Laney. You’re in our hearts today and every second of every other day.’

“You’ll always be Mommy’s loving, sweet baby boy,” she went on. “When we were apart you would tell us, ‘I missed you’ as we walked through the door. You would always come running with a big hug and kiss. We miss you buddy and we miss those hugs and kisses. We all love you so very, very much.”

Saturday’s event was the first time Lane’s parents have spoken publicly since his death. Lane had just stepped into the water at the Seven Seas Lagoon outside the Grand Floridian Resort when he was attacked. His parents have started the Lane Thomas Foundation in his honor.

The Graves’ neighbors, Brandi and Mike Miller, put together Saturday’s event, the “Love for Lane Celebration.”

Matt Graves was equally tearful as he spoke.

“On behalf of Melissa and myself we want to thank you all for coming to Lane’s birthday celebration,” he told the crowd as he and Melissa took turns holding their daughter, Ella. “This event would not be possible without Brandi and Mike Miller who are the best neighbors anyone could wish for.

“Today Lane would have turned three years old but we celebrate his first birthday in heaven with the community that has surrounded us with love and support,” he said. “Melissa and I often speak of how lucky we were to have spent two years, nine months and 11 days as a complete family.

“My wife would tell you those were the happiest days of her life and I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “What I’m also confident about is that our faith has lifted us up as we fight everyday to find peace.

“We would not have been able to get through the pain without this community, our friends and family and for that we say thank you,” he said. “There really is no place like Nebraska. Happy birthday buddy. We miss you LT.”

The attendees, who were all asked to wear blue in honor of Lane, then gathered in the shape of a heart and released thousands of blue balloons.