Flower wreaths and photos of 8-year-old Madyson “Maddy” Middleton adorned the Kaiser Permanente Arena on Sunday. The bleachers were filled to the top with community members who came to mourn and remember the life of the freckle-faced girl. While waiting for the memorial to begin, two girls around Maddy’s age played clapping games and sang rhymes, laughing. They reminded the people around them that the memorial was not just one of grief, but also a time of celebration.
Over 1,000 people were in attendance. The memorial featured several artists from the Tannery Arts Center where Maddy lived, as well as James Durbin — former American Idol contestant and Santa Cruz local. One such artist was Jasmine Schlafke, who recited a poem about Maddy’s exuberant and precocious personality.
“I knew her very well,” Schlafke said to the audience, “and she was spicy and smart and incredible.”
Schlafke called upon the audience to join her in making a promise to Maddy. “Maddy, we promise to remember your spirit with love, to foster a community that is safer for children, to create the kind of loving community your parents can heal in. We love you, Maddy.”
Parents in the crowd repeated after Schlafke as they held their children close.
Maddy’s mother Laura Jordan kept her remarks brief, but thanked the community for its kindness and support. “Though Maddy’s not with us physically, she will always be with us,” she added.
“I want to share two things from Maddy so you can get to know my daughter a little bit better,” Jordan said. “The first is an entry from her diary and the second is a video she made for her video blog.”
The entry was from December 2014 and described Maddy’s excitement about an upcoming school field trip. The video showed Maddy running around the Tannery, giving her viewers a tour of the community.
“This place is for artists,” Maddy said, pursing her lips and looking pompously into the camera, “so you better be qualified.”
The crowd laughed through tears as they watched Maddy roam the Tannery’s halls and play ding-dong-ditch on unsuspecting residents. Between the silly anecdotes and the performers’ heartfelt songs, audience members weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
“I’d like people to keep in our minds and in our hearts the word both,” Mayor Don Lane said. “It is possible to both grieve and celebrate a life at the same time. It is possible to feel both heartbroken and love at the same time. It is possible to both cry and laugh with joy on the same day. And it is possible to feel both despair and hope on the same day.”
Mayor Lane declared that Oct. 5, 2015, the ninth anniversary of Maddy’s birth, will be officially known as Maddy Middleton day. He invited the community to honor her by singing happy birthday and eating pretzels, popcorn and mini cupcakes — some of her favorite snacks.
Maddy’s name reached national headlines since her death, leading people across the country to know who the fun-loving, adventurous girl was.
Maddy was last seen on the afternoon of July 26 and was reported missing later that evening. Santa Cruz police, a Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team, FBI agents and volunteers searched for her, and found her body in a recycling bin the night of July 27. Maddy died from positional asphyxiation and stab wounds to the neck, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Unit.
Fifteen-year-old AJ Gonzalez has been charged with Maddy’s murder, along with forcible rape, lewd acts with a child younger than 14 and rape by instrument. Gonzalez has been charged as an adult and faces life in prison if convicted. Gonzalez also lives at the Tannery and was Maddy’s neighbor.
“I suspect many of us wish there were more that we could do for Maddy,” Mayor Lane said, “but this is the one thing we can definitely do for her: honor her by redoubling our efforts to make this a safer place where the wellbeing of every child is attended to.”