Sunset vigil held for Alyssa Byrne
January 17, 2013
Of the 50 or so people who attended a somber candlelight vigil for Alyssa Byrne Thursday, no one knew her. But each was affected by the 19-year-old Petaluma resident who went missing following the final night of the SnowGlobe Music Festival and was found dead several days later.
Many shivered through a crisp Thursday sunset in hopes of showing support for Byrne’s family. Some said they hoped to help prevent a similar incident in the future.
Of all the people in attendance Thursday, it is likely none was more affected by Byrne’s death than Antonio Diaz, one of the South Tahoe Public Utility District workers who found the aspiring paramedic’s body.
Diaz attended the memorial with his wife, Coral, and said he came to the vigil in hopes of feeling closer to Byrne’s spirit. He also said he hoped the memorial would help Byrne’s family, and himself, find some sense of closure.
Diaz recalled driving with a co-worker on the morning of Jan. 4 and catching a glimpse of something in the snow on the south side of Pioneer Trail. Even before making a U-turn, he said he had a feeling it was the missing girl from the news reports.
Byrne was on her back, her arms bent in front of her, Diaz said. She had no gloves on and was missing one boot. She appeared to be sleeping, but was frozen, Diaz said. Footprints in the area showed she had made three loops up the hill before returning to the area she was found. Diaz said it appeared as if Byrne had walked up the hill in order to get a better perspective on her whereabouts.
After the grim discovery, Diaz said he wanted to hold Byrne, but knew he needed to leave the body where it was for authorities, who arrived about 10 minutes after 911 was called.
“You feel helpless, like you want to pick her up,” Diaz said.
Initially, the encounter did not weigh on him, but in the days since, Byrne has stayed in Diaz’s thoughts, the longtime South Shore resident said. He said he had hoped to meet Byrne’s family members at the memorial, but said its OK they did not attend.
“Hopefully, after today, I will feel a little better,” Diaz said. “Definitely this is going to help.”
Although he was the most directly involved, Diaz was not the only one impacted by Byrne’s story.
South Lake Tahoe resident Amber Burdick, 7, woke up in the morning and dressed all in pink, reportedly Byrne’s favorite color.
Resident April Kirkhuff, said she came to the memorial to show support for Byrne’s family and her own community following the tragic incident. She also said she hoped Byrne’s death would encourage more young people to always stay with a friend and realize they are not as safe as they often believe.
Mary Gillespie said she also had Byrne’s family in mind when organizing the memorial through Facebook. She said a poster with pictures of Byrne, signed by many people who attended the memorial, will be left at a memorial that has already been placed where her body was found.
“I just felt like we … needed something that would comfort her parents,” Gillespie said. The search and subsequent discovery of Byrne struck a chord with the South Shore resident and SnowGlobe attendee.
“My heart just went out to her,” Gillespie said.