Seven months after 6-year-old Alanna Gallagher was found slain on a street corner, opening a chapter of darkness and evil in this suburb west of Fort Worth, those who loved her then and some who have come to love her since gathered Saturday at her school to unveil a memorial that captures sunlight and childhood innocence.
About 50 people, including Willow Creek Elementary Principal Lacei Koffi, family pastor Phillip Heinze, Alanna’s mother, Laura Gallagher, and bikers from the Specialists Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club attended the event on a sunny springlike day. Speakers talked about the happiness Alanna found at the school as a kindergartner and the lasting reminder of the fragility of life that the memorial represents.
“For our students who knew Alanna, it’ll be a great place to reflect and have those conversations about what they loved about her,” Koffi said. “And for those that didn’t, it’s about understanding the importance of life and finding the things you know you love to do and enjoy that.”
The memorial, which sits in view of Alanna’s kindergarten classroom as well as her sibling’s room upstairs, features a large overhead awning with concrete rows for children to sit and play or study. Winding paths lead to a stone plaque in the center that reads, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” a Dr. Seuss quote chosen by Alanna’s family.
During the brightest times of the day, the sun shines through the top of the awning and casts an image of a girl chasing butterflies on the plaque. Purple flowers and bushes representing Alanna’s favorite color are scattered throughout the courtyard.
Alanna was found dead the evening of July 1 on a Saginaw street corner. Tyler Holder, a neighbor, was arrested and indicted on a capital murder charge, accused of sexually assaulting and suffocating Alanna. Holder, now 18, is also charged with attempted capital murder in the shooting of an Arlington police officer who was trying to arrest him.
A procession of bikers from the motorcycle club started the afternoon by lining up outside the courtyard. Several members of the club worked on Alanna’s memorial, from design to construction to landscaping.
David Carter, a former Saginaw police officer who is now a Parker County sheriff’s deputy, designed the memorial. The project cost $45,000, funded mostly by donations, and took seven months, he said.
“When I got here to start designing the memorial, the sun was setting in the west and it was really a spiritual moment,” Carter said. “There’s no time in the day to say everything I feel, but it’s been an honor working on this.”
Carter started work on the project after the wife of a fellow club member talked about a memorial to the Willow Creek PTA.
Gallagher expressed her gratitude for the community’s turnout at the memorial and the thought that went into its design.
“This just shows me how many people care about her, even people who didn’t know her personally,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful they’re doing something both classroom-oriented and outdoors — it really captures her essence.”
If Alanna were there to see the memorial, her mom said, “she’d be running around back and forth on all the rows and come to the edge to want to jump down, and she’d want one of us to catch her.”
Gallagher and Koffi said they hope students will use the area often.
“The students [have been] kind of looking out the windows waiting to be able to go out there,” Koffi said.