ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Family and friends of an Orange Park community came together Sunday night to remember Somer Thompson.
Monday marks six years since Somer, 7, was lured into an Orange Park home, sexually assaulted and murdered. Her killer is serving several life sentences.
Earlier this year, the home she was lured into was burned to the ground and replaced by Somer's Garden. Sunday night, people gathered at the garden wearing purple to remember Somer.
Diena Thompson, Somer's mother, remembers her daughter as a perfect little girl.
"She was amazing," Thompson said. "She was a beautiful angel here on earth and now in heaven."
An angel smiling down on the community as they hold each other. The reality of six years without Somer is still hard to bear for Kimberly Screws, a family friend.
"It was just yesterday and every day for Diena, myself and all moms alike. It's just like it was yesterday," Screws said. "It hurts just as much today as it did six years ago."
Sheila Clifton Delongis lost her daughter, Maddie, back in 1998. Maddie was also killed by a neighbor. You couldn't help but feel the love and admiration she and Thompson have for one another.
"She's always with us," Delongis said of Somer. "She's always in our hearts. Just as we had to live with the loss of Maddie, what really hurts is the fact that it continues on."
Through that pain and heartache came something beautiful. Delongis gifted a picture frame that says, "You are my sunshine," to Thompson.
"I used to sing this to Maddie, too," Delongis said. "She used to look at me and say, 'Mom, where are you going? Where am I going?'
I would say, 'You're not going anywhere, baby. You're with mom. You're with mom always.'"
Somer's twin brother stood close to Thompson at the gathering.
"Children are resilient," Thompson said. "They are more heroes than I could ever pretend to be. They're a blessing. Every child is a blessing from God."
For Thompson and Delongis, their hope now is to spread a message of the importance of educating children about the dangers in the world and to prevent another tragedy in the community.
"Lonzie Barton would be 2 years old," Delongis said. "Somer Thompson would have been 13. Maddie would have been 25 years old. We will never as moms and dads see the ages of our children."
"If I don't get through each day, in my mind, that means I've let the monsters win," Thompson said. "I refuse to let that happen."