|Family members and other residents of Menifee release balloons at the end of today's memorial service marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Terry Smith Jr.|
The boy's body was found July 10, 2013, buried in the back yard of the family home just behind Menifee Market after a three-day search. His half brother, Skylor Atilano, was arrested on a murder charge and remains in custody at the Southwest Detention Center in French Valley.
Today, however, the focus was on the memory of a boy known as JuJu, who was remembered for the joy he spread to others.
"He saw the good in everyone," his mother, Shawa Smith, told a crowd of about 40 people during the brief ceremony. "His eyes were always full of wonder and he had an imagination that never stopped.
The event was promoted primarily by word of mouth and through the Facebook pages of the organizers. Although the gathering was small, those in attendance exchanged hugs and memories.
Kathy Jablecki, one of those who joined the search party a year ago, read a letter from the boy's father, Terry Smith Sr., who lives in West Virginia.
"He was a bright, happy, sensitive, sweet boy," Smith said the letter. "Everybody who came in contact with him thought he was a great kid."
In the letter, the boy's half brother Jeremiah told of reading JuJu his favorite bedtime story, "The Little Engine That Could," every night. Terry Jr. lived with his father and half brother and sister before moving to California to live with his mother.
Sarah Reid was one of the main organizers of the search for Terry Jr. a year ago. She also spoke today.
"Driving up here brought back memories of that sense of community," she said. "Not that we came together for five or six days, but that we came together forever.
"Menifee didn't want to be known just as the city that had a tragedy. We wanted to be known as the city that came together as a community because of that tragedy."
Some in the crowd then released orange and blue balloons into the sky before leaving the brief ceremony in the place where once thousands has gathered.
|Sarah Reid addresses the crowd in front of a memorial mosaic made by Menifee residents last year.|
|Terry Smith's mother Shawna hugs her daughter Mary during today's ceremony.|