EVANSDALE | Angels Park Memorial Island was alive with subdued activity Monday.
Drew Collins pounded a sign in place in front of the large donated sculpture that greets visitors to the island. He then knelt down and read the inscription to his young daughter, Callie.
“This statue is given in memory of Elizabeth Collins and four other area girls whose lives were tragically taken. Their memories live on.”
“That’s so nice,” Callie Collins said.
Elsewhere in the park, Tom Nichols squatted to pull weeds from the flower bed in front of the large shelter dedicated to his daughter, Lindsay, who was murdered in March 2012.
And Gus, a large bullmastiff, wandered the grounds at a leisurely pace.
“That’s Elizabeth’s dog,” said Drew Collins.
All had gathered at the park at Meyers Lake to publicly unveil improvements at the site and to memorialize Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, 8 and 10 respectively, cousins who had gone missing July 13, 2012. Their abandoned bicycles were found at the lake, and their bodies were found by hunters nearly five months later at Seven Bridges Wildlife Area near Readlyn.
The island, once home to gnarled trees and overgrown brush, now features sprouting grass, cement walkways, well-tended flower beds, newly planted trees and a shelter and four gazebos -- each dedicated to a murdered girl. Memorial bricks have been installed around the sculpture.
“Almost all the new trees are in memory of someone,” said Jan Nichols, Lindsay’s stepmother.
A granite bench outside the shelter -- one of several similar benches that have been placed at the park -- bears the likenesses of Lindsay and her high school friend and teammate Kelsey Lee, who died of cancer a few months before Lindsay’s death.
The bench reads “Forever Young. Friends on Earth. Angels in Heaven.”
Tom and Jan Nichols tend to the garden around the shelter. In fact, Tom Nichols has become a caretaker of sorts for the entire park.
“Yeah, I’m out here pretty much every day,” he said.
Tom Nichols said he is proud of what he and other volunteers have accomplished at the park.
“In the beginning, we had some nay-sayers,” he said. “They said it couldn’t be done. They said we would fail. If you look around today, I’d say this is far from a failure.
“This means a lot to me. This park is basically to help this community heal. This community took a real hit. Losing three girls in a matter of months.
"It’s helping the community get back on track, for people to come to remember the girls and their own special loved ones who were respected and honored while they were alive.”
More than 100 people visited the park Monday, many to take part in and observe the release of sky lanterns in memory of the girls.
After a slow start, pink, purple and white lanterns floated into a clear blue sky. The crowd cheered as the first one cleared the trees.
Elizabeth’s parents, Drew and Heather Collins, were in the center of the activity.
“It’s just beautiful,” Heather Collins said of the park.
“It’s amazing,” Drew Collins said. “We still have a lot to do. It’s a work in progress.”
Drew Collins credited Tom Nichols with taking charge of the efforts.
“If there’s something being done, his hands are in it,” he said.
Both parents said the park brings them a sense of peace.
“It gives us a chance to reflect on things,” Heather Collins said.
“I’d actually rather come here than the gravesite,” Drew Collins said. “It’s more healing.”
The investigation into the cousins’ deaths continues.
“They are still following leads, double-checking old leads and just waiting for that one lead that will crack the case wide open,” Drew Collins said, who met with DCI investigators Monday.
Additionally, both Heather and Drew visited the site where the girls’ bodies were found.
“There’s no path,” Heather Collins said. “The grass is taller than me, and there were a ton of bugs.
“It was difficult,” she said. “I wanted to feel where they were taken, where they were killed, what my girls had to go through.”
And Drew Collins had a message for whoever killed his daughter and niece.
“Whoever did this, we’re not going to give up till we find you.”
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