NORTH PORT, Fla. — Where a memorial once rested for Gabby Petito now sits a lonely tree.
Only flat beds of grass remain where the tributes once stood. Crews with North Port Public Works were at the memorial at about 8:30 Tuesday morning to take away the tributes in honor of Gabby. Items were taken away in cardboard boxes. Those tributes consisted of flowers, teddy bears, candles and photos of Gabby under a tree not far from North Port City Hall.
“I mean, it brought tears to my eyes seeing all of the teddy bears and the flowers and just all of the presents people had brought up for her," said Jean Kilcourse, who lives just minutes away from the memorial. "She’s an angel, she has touched the world.”
The city says a lot of what people have left has been damaged by weather. Gabby's family was in town this week from New York to collect some of the items.
Her mother tweeted yesterday saying thank you to everyone who showed the family love here in Florida.
While they may be taken away, there is meaning behind their new destination.
“It’s been taken back so that nothing is destroyed," said Jill Luke, Mayor of the City of North Port. "It’s being boxed so that the family can be able to receive all of it. I’ve been told that a lot of the items are going to be used and displayed in the office for their foundation when they open their office.”
Even though the memorial has been taken down down, North Port Mayor Jill Luke says she wants to create a permanent memorial for Gabby. She says she wants to make sure Gabby's memory is honored every day.
That foundation being the Gabby Petito Foundation, started by her family. It’s mission is to help other organizations in finding missing persons. Luke tells Fox 4 while this memorial will be gone, a permanent tribute will be put in its place.
“The family has chosen to have a permanent memorial be a bench," she says. "I’ve seen a mock up of it, it’s gorgeous. A bench with butterflies coming up from the top of it, several butterflies. It’s just gorgeous, light, airy, carefree; the way she is so it’s beautiful.”
The memorial began shortly after the news of Gabby’s disappearance in September. What began as a few tributes, quickly grew into a peaceful sanctuary.
”It grew massive, it went from a tiny little shrine to it encompassed the entire tree," said Kilcourse. "That just goes to prove the love that was shown to this young lady. It touched the world. I don’t know what else to say other than that. It did, it touched the world.”
Seeing the amount of tributes laid, it’s clear to see the impact Gabby’s story has had on this community. Luke said making that permanent memorial is important for the reflection and healing to continue.
“It will sit over in the shade between those two trees over to your left and people will be able to sit there, look at the tree and reflect.”
Luke said the bench is being made by a manufacturer in Indiana, who intends on delivering the bench himself. Luke said the bench will be installed within the next six weeks.