Niagara Gazette — Loretta Jo Gates' three children sent their mom a giant balloon the other day.
The youngest, Peter, 4, seemed to get a kick out of helping to release the string, but the two older girls had written messages to their mom and taped them to the triple heart-shaped balloon. Mariah, 5, wrote "I love you," in the careful precision of a new kindergartener. Kyla, 11, didn't let anyone see what she had written before taping her message to the balloon. Moments later the trio stood at the edge of a backyard patio and released the balloon into the autumn sky, watching as it made its way up toward Heaven where they believe their mother to be.
To a visitor listening to family members share stories about the 30-year-old Niagara Falls woman who was recently brutally murdered, it is clear that Gates may not have been with her kids as much as they might have liked. But, like many children born to imperfect mothers, they simply loved the mother they had. Despite what family members described as her efforts to battle a drug habit, the children just miss the mom that they knew.
Scott Martin, father of the youngest two of her three children, knows about addiction. His drug of choice was alcohol, and when Loretta went into rehab a couple years ago and he had custody, the two were taken from him after he was charged with drunken driving. Martin was able to have custody restored after he successfully completed a Family and Childrens Services program that fortifies parenting skills. A Gazette story detailed his success. Martin has been sober, he says proudly, since then.
Loretta was not always so successful finding peace and sobriety. She was working to stay clean at the time of her death, according to Martin. And, regardless of her challenges, she still touched the hearts of many she left behind.