By Rick Pfeiffer' email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — Dozens of pink balloons floated into the grey November skies Wednesday afternoon as family members and friends revealed a new memorial to Isabella Tennant in Hyde Park.
“Maybe Bella will reach down from heaven and grab one,” said her great aunt Susan Wendt as she watched them float away.
The memorial overlooks Duck Island, one of Isabella’s favorite places to play in the park. A chiseled stone marker and a freshly planted cherry tree mark the memorial.
Engraved on the stone is a message that reads: “In Loving Memory of Isabella Tennant. May this tree be a symbol of her love and spirit.”
“There are moments in life when you wish you could bring someone down from heaven and spend the day with them, kiss them one more time and tell them you love them,” Wendt said. “This tree will be a great reminder of Bella.”
Mayor Paul Dyster said he’ll never forget the sorrow that surrounded Tennant’s reported disappearance and then the discovery of her murder.
“When I think back on that terrible morning, I realize it has affected me very much,” the mayor said. “It created a feeling of emptiness, but the way the community has reacted since then is filling that void. This community has a really big heart. This (memorial) is about making our community whole.”
The disappearance of the 5-year-old in the early morning hours of Aug. 27, 2012 left folks in the Falls shocked and heart-broken. Then the grisly discovery of her body, in a trash bag, buried in a garbage can in the 500 block alley of Third Street, left even veteran Falls cops shaken.
“It’s a terrible crime. It tears at your heart,” Detective Capt. William Thomson said at the time. “I have grandchildren that are the age of the victim.”
Over a year later, prosecutors and police have closed the case with arrests and convictions.
It didn’t take investigators long to identify and charge a suspect. Less than 24 hours after Tennant was reported missing from her great-grandmother’s home, detectives arrested a then 16-year-old family friend in connection with the murder.
John Freeman Jr., now 18, was ultimately indicted by a grand jury on charges of second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence. His close friend, Tyler Best, now 19, was charged, as a co-defendant, with tampering with physical evidence and hindering prosecution for helping Freeman dispose of Tennant’s body.
Both pleaded guilty to those crimes.
Freeman was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison. Best received a prison term of 16 months to four years and is already eligible for parole.