Our community changed this week.
It wasn’t the result of the bitter and divided presidential race that thankfully came to a close Tuesday.
It was because of a little girl who smiled easily and often, who was a friend to everyone, who loved the color pink, her family and her school.
We came to know Kayla Gomez-Orozco’s sweet, smiling face from news accounts and billboards after the 10-year-old went missing after a church service Nov. 1.
In those frantic first days she was missing we learned from family members that she was a girly girl who adored her older brothers and loved to read. She was smart and had dreams of becoming a doctor and learning to play guitar.
The community, desperate to help in any way possible, did what we could. We prayed. We brought food and water to first responders.
We wore pink in support of Kayla and the efforts to find her. Pink ribbons soon plastered mailboxes lining the streets in her subdivision, where only days earlier she likely walked from house to house asking, “trick-or-treat?”
When law enforcement requested volunteer help in the search, an estimated 600 people turned out at daybreak Saturday to scour 1,400 acres near the site where she last was seen in hopes of finding any small clue leading to her whereabouts.
Just a few short hours after that search ended, we learned the tragic news that she had been found in a well in a family member’s backyard.
A 24-year-old man who is married to Kayla’s cousin was charged with capital murder. Authorities have not disclosed a motive, and it doesn’t matter, because no motive could explain such an unthinkable crime.
What matters is that a little girl, who only recently celebrated her 10th birthday, was taken from us too soon.
It shatters us to think such evil could lurk within our midst, and it leaves us searching for answers and trying to find the words to explain it to our own children.
Kayla’s obituary said she loved her school friends and “enjoyed many activities including swimming, soccer, doing cartwheels, baking with mom and volunteering as a leader in every way she could.” My heart breaks reading those words not just because they are about an innocent child taken too soon, but because they just as easily could describe my own daughter.
Kayla’s story has shaken this community to its core because in her we see our own children and it drives home the senselessness of ending this life that was so full of joy and had so much more to give.
“Kayla has become a part of everyone in this community," District Attorney Matt Bingham said in a news conference announcing capital murder charges against the suspect. "Her story has become our story. She has become our daughter, and we are going to get justice for her. We will get justice for Kayla.”
In a prayer vigil held Sunday in front of Jack Elementary, where Kayla was in fourth grade, her father tearfully told the hundreds in attendance how 10 years ago, he and his family were blessed with Kayla's arrival. "Every day was a precious day with her," Efrain Gomez said.
Gomez said he believes in God and understands that Kayla was here with a purpose, with a mission. And although he can't say exactly what it was that she was destined to do, he sees the power of her influence "in being able to have you all here tonight."
This sweet angel has shown us how we can come together — even in what seems like the most divisive of times — to help, love and support one another. No matter what our differences, no matter what our walks of life.
So as the pink ribbons fade along with the raw grief and emotions we’re feeling now, let’s remember to be kind to one another, because every day is precious.
Allison Pollan is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph.