PEKIN — Signs of a lively family laid Tuesday morning on a home’s front lawn in a quiet northeast side neighborhood — kids’ bikes and a tricycle, a small jump ramp. Two dogs looked from the front window, waiting for their people to return.
Taped across the front door, a large, pink sign read, “Haylee My Best Friend,” and more messages of love and sorrow. Several flower bouquets rested on the doorstep.
Terry and Veronica Garrison and their other children were at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, saying goodbye to their daughter and sister on her ninth birthday.
Haylee officially passed away at 10:32 a.m., four days after she was accidentally shot in the throat while she and her 9-year-old cousin played with a firearm in the house.
She never regained consciousness.
Her parents arranged for organ donations to let Haylee help other young children through her tragedy, said Matt Green, principal of Starke School, where she attended third grade, and who served as a family spokesman through their ordeal.
Details of the accident remained unrevealed by police as their investigation continued. “That information will be released” eventually, said Pekin Police Department Public Information Officer Billie Ingles.
That time was not Tuesday, while Haylee’s family, friends and community mourned her death.
The family invited the community to gather outside their home at 1802 Victoria Drive at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, to say goodbye and share wishes of love with a balloon release.“I just want to thank everybody for your support, your love, compassion,” Veronica Garrison said to the crowd at the balloon release Tuesday evening. “This is beyond unbelievable. Thank you guys all so much for showing up. Haylee would’ve loved (this). I know she’s looking down. She loved everybody. She’s very loved.”
Justin Robbins, a family friend who spoke at the balloon release and sang a song, had a few words to say about Haylee.
“I was told by many of her friends and her family,” Robbins said, “that she was a kind and happy child, who loved music and playing ... and that her older sister was her best friend and that she was a girly girl who loved red lipstick. I know hearts are broken and sad as they should be because we all loved her so ... I was told by a family friend that she wanted to be an angel because they were the prettiest. I assure you today, Haylee is an angel in heaven forever and ever.”
Haylee’s family said goodbye in a similar, private fashion earlier in the day, Green said.
Police were called to the home at about 7 p.m. Friday to find Haylee with a wound from a firearm that had come from a bedroom in the house, said Deputy Chief Don Baxter.
As Haylee was placed on life support, her parents quickly agreed to arrange for organ donations, Green said.
“They’re taking solace that Haylee’s death will benefit others,” he said Monday.Haylee celebrated her birthday with classmates earlier Friday, the last day of classes before District 108 schools went on spring break.
Counselors and teachers will be available when classes resume April 18 to help students cope with her loss.
There is a memorial fund at the Pekin Community Bank and a GoFundMe page for those would like to make donations in Haylee’s name.
Tim Rosenberger of the Journal Star contributed to this story.