Balloons and birthday candles covered the alter. But the celebration wasn't for Austin's birthday. It was for her life. A life taken too soon. Austin's Mother, Father and younger brother, came to Champaign to be with their church family.
Those who knew Austin, shared their memories. They said they loved her, and would miss her. Scott Rice, a family friend, says Austin used to babysit his children. "As a parent, the greatest praise you can pay for anybody is that you trust them with your children. And we trusted Austin without reservation. She was a joy to have in our house, in the church and in our community," says Rice.
It's been a week of tears for many, but they say for Austin, they have to be strong. Kristine Johnston, friend, says they have to have faith that she did so much good work while she was here..and have joy in that.
While people stood to talk about Austin's compassion and determination, pictures of the red-headed teen flashed in the background. Her family was surrounded by love. But it's hard to forget how she was taken..
Terry Harter, senior pastor, says her parents "feel the love the people have here for them and that's been very comforting. And yet at the same time, that loss is a very painful, devastating loss." He says you cannot recover from those things and that your life changes. Harter says, "you can go on. Life can be good again. But it won't be the same again." Never the same. All they can do, is cling to each other and pray, for a better tomorrow.
Austin's family didn't speak at the service, but her dad wrote a letter in the church booklet. Ryan Cloyd wrote, "Austin would want us to continue her dream of making the world a better place for everyone. She would want us to build on what we have in common, to find strength in our diversity, and to find love in our hearts.Our future must begin with forgiveness of everything in the past that keeps us apart. Austin would tell us to always do what is right, to strive for social justice whatever the price, because the cost of injustice can endure forever."
All memorials in her name will go to a mission project she was involved in. They can be sent to:
Appalachia Service Project
Attn: Carolyn Bailey
4523 Bristol Highway
Johnson City, TN 37601