Friends gather to remember lost family members |

Friends gather to remember lost family members

Jeff Munson

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Organized by Compassionate Friends, families release balloons at a service on Sunday with a message and the name of a child that they have lost.

In one direction and with the force of the wind as a guide, dozens of helium-filled red balloons with hand-written messages on them were launched Sunday to recognize loved ones who have passed away.

In the somber moments punctuated by tears, poetry and song, parents and siblings gathered at the Children’s Memorial Log on Lake Tahoe Boulevard to pay their respects and to form bonds with others who grieve the loss of their children.

The annual event, sponsored by Compassionate Friends, a support group for families who have lost loved ones, has been celebrated for 11 years.

One particular balloon, though, ventured on its own, toward Heavenly Mountain Resort. That balloon was dedicated to Eric Nageotte-Lowe, who died Sept. 6, 2004, in a ski accident in New Zealand. He was 18.

“His spirit moved it to the place that he loved,” said his father, Ron Nageotte. The South Tahoe High School graduate had hoped to become a member of the U.S. Ski Team and practiced regularly at Heavenly.

As the family of John Patrick Lawrence Napier watched the balloons dedicated to him rise skyward, they recalled a young man with a zest for life, who was deeply compassionate and cheerfully supported friends and family in their endeavors.

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“Johnny was the most amazing son and brother anyone could ask for,” said Melissa Gochnauer, Napier’s brother.

Johnny, as his family called him, was 21-years old when he died Aug. 12 in Huntington Beach. He was hit by an alleged drunken driver and died instantly without suffering. He lived in South Lake Tahoe for much of his life.

“What we are going through is very hard, but we all have each other,” Gochnauer said, speaking on behalf of sister Jennifer Napier and mother Tammy Pembroke Gochnauer of South Lake Tahoe.

The memorial provides a place where parents and family can remember and grieve the loss of their child and be in the company of others who have had similar losses, said organizer Alrine Gordon, who lost her 44-year-old son, David, to cancer in 1998.

“The memorial has truly taken on a life of its own,” Gordon said.

The Children’s Memorial Log was established Oct. 2, 1994, the culmination of a dream by Sue and Paul Hrbacek. The memorial honors the Hrbacek’s son, Rory, and his two friends, Sandy Haynes and Casey Wells, who died on Pioneer Trail on Feb. 2, 1991, when the car they were in skidded on black ice and hit a tree. The large pine that stopped the car is now the essence of the memorial, which was created by South Shore artist Dan Jones. Since the dedication ceremony an annual anniversary celebration has been held in summer and fall, giving parents, family and friends an opportunity to remember and share the memories of loved ones.

Sunday’s celebration continued the tradition. When the memorial was first dedicated in 1994 there were 36 bronze name plates on the log. Now there are 185 names representing individuals from 11 states and four foreign countries.