Diena Thompson said goodbye to her 7-year-old daughter Somer with a kiss ten years ago. Somer was going to school. The mother from Clay County would never see her again.
It’s been ten years of pain. Thompson’s grief has turned into a strong desire to protect other children and keep other families from going through the pain she has.
On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of Somer’s kidnapping and death, family, friends, neighbors, and people from the community got together to remember and honor the happy little girl who always seemed to be smiling.
Somer’s favorite color was purple, and many people wore that color and brought their own candles to the evening vigil for her, which was called a “Angelversary.”
“I wanted to let you all know that it’s now 3,653 days after 10 years.” “I wanted to tell you all how much it means to me that you are all here with me,” Thompson told the group of at least 75 people holding candles close to their hearts.
“The people who show up to support me are the ones who love and care about me.” It means so much to me that you all will never understand. “Most of you are the reason I’ve been able to get through this,” she said.
Thompson spoke to the crowd again after a prayer by a close friend who has been with her through this whole thing.
She led them in singing Somer’s favorite song, “You Are My Sunshine,” with her voice shaking with emotion.
People in the area told The Times-Union earlier that they would never forget Somer and her beautiful smile.
Shirley Fitzgerald said that Somer and her granddaughter both went to Grove Park Elementary School, but not in the same classes.
He said, “That poor little girl, it was terrible, just terrible.”
Somer’s 21st birthday was April 5. If she could go back in time, she would have gone to prom, thought about college or a career, and just enjoyed being young and alive.
Somer Thomson A Look Back
On October 19, 2009, Jarred Mitchell Harrell took all of that away and more.
She was on her way home from Grove Park Elementary School when Harrell drew her into the house that used to be on the site of the Gano Avenue garden. Harrell, who was 24 at the time, raped and ki*lled her. After putting her body in the trash, he wrapped it up.
There were hundreds of volunteers working with police to search the area thoroughly. Her body was found in a Folkston, Ga., landfill on Oct. 21, 2009, two days after she went missing. The landfill is close to the state line that separates Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.
In the end, Harrell pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and was given six life sentences in prison.
Somer was taken from the house that Harrell’s mother owned. After he was arrested, the house was left empty and then went into foreclosure.
The Somer Sunshine Foundation bought it through a bank transfer, and Thompson then set up a training exercise for firefighters to burn it down.
The site became Somer’s Garden because of her plan. It is now a memorial to her daughter and a community garden with organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other plants that she helps take care of every month.
Thompson said the garden makes her think of how much her daughter loved being outside and in the sun.
Thompson also set up a foundation whose goal is to help victims of crimes against children by educating them and giving them resources. Parents whose children have been abducted can get grants from the foundation to help them deal with the financial problems that come with it. The money would have been very helpful to Somer’s family both during and after the search for her.
The foundation and garden were just the start.
Thompson asked people to join the Monique Burr Foundation for Children’s “The Power of Ten” campaign so that her daughter’s death could lead to change.
The campaign tells adults to take the online course “Darkness to Light Stewards of Children” to learn how to stop, spot, and respond properly to se*xual ab*use. With help from Children’s Safe Passage and the Somer Sunshine Foundation, a scholarship is given.
Online training for Stewards of Children is free for people who live in Northeast Florida and costs $10 for people who live outside of the region.
The program says that nationwide data show that one in ten children will be se*xually ab*used before they turn 18. The goal of the program is for every adult who goes through the Stewards of Children training to keep at least 10 kids safe.