August 29, 2010

Thousands gather to remember slain Great Bend teen

GREAT BEND — People said they had never seen so many gathered on the plaza outside the Barton County Courthouse.

GREAT BEND — People said they had never seen so many gathered on the plaza outside the Barton County Courthouse.

Nor, perhaps, had they ever seen so many tears shed at one time on the courthouse square.

On a breezy Sunday evening, thousands stood nearly shoulder to shoulder at a music-filled, prayer-laden, candlelight-illuminated vigil in memory of 14-year-old homicide victim Alicia DeBolt and to support her family.

"This is quite a gathering," said the Rev. Scott Solether, president of the Barton County Association of Churches.

One after another, musicians and pastors took the stage. They said it wasn't only a time of grief. It was a time to heal and to celebrate Alicia's life.

Alicia, about to begin her freshman year at Great Bend High School, disappeared after leaving her home late Aug. 21. An employee at an asphalt plant west of town found her burned body more than two days later. Authorities are treating her death as a homicide.

Adam Longoria, a 36-year-old Great Bend man who recently served time in a Texas prison, has been described by authorities as a person of interest in the case. Longoria is due in court today on an auto burglary and theft charge.

At the vigil, Alicia's classmates wore bright blue and pink clothing and flipflops — because that is what she liked to wear.

She was excited about making the cheerleading squad. She sang soprano in music class. She had many friends, her classmates said.

They wore T-shirts that said, "In loving memory of Alicia DeBolt."

Her family sat in reserved seats in front of the bandshell stage. They hugged and consoled each other, as did the young people standing behind them.

"I think it's just amazing that that many people could come here to support" Alicia and her family, said 14-year-old Courtney Deist.

Crystal Brown, a parent who organized the event, said a fund to help Alicia's family with expenses has been established with Landmark National Bank in Great Bend.

Away from the vigil, Great Bend police arrested a man who broke out a window of a vehicle belonging to protesters from the Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Police Chief Dean Akings said. Church members often protest at military funerals.

No one was injured.

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