FRIENDSWOOD, Texas (FOX 26) - On a warm spring day, exactly 20 years after hearts began collectively breaking, the goodness and grace of Friendswood, Texas got its due.
"We were and are just a normal family, but you sustained us, supported us and helped us through our valley of death," said Gay Smither, mother of Laura, the 12-year old aspiring ballerina abducted from a Friendswood park April 3,1997.
In the 17 days that followed, more the 6,000 people put their lives on hold to search for the little girl who, as her parents say, became "Friendswood's child".
"I believe that you were God's instruments for change. When Laura's life was taken from us our lives were shattered in ways that no one should have to describe. It was only by the grace of God and the kindness of this community that we survived," said Smither speaking to dozens who gathered in acknowledgment of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.
On the 20th anniversary of Laura's abduction, there are reasons for comfort, if not closure.
Relentless perseverance over two decades by police delivered this past September the murder indictment of William Reece, the killer responsible for Laura's death and at least three others.
"To be here today with our suspect finally indicted is truly onset to prayer," said Smither.
And then there's the lasting legacy of the precious life lost -- the Laura Center Recovery Center and its search manual, a guide book for rescue that's preserving lives across the globe.
"Because of that there is now a blueprint for how a family and how a community should respond when a child goes missing," said Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady.
As for the Smithers, they've found a measure of peace. In their faith. In the embrace of their community and in the memories no one can ever take away.
"Laura was simply the sweetest child, gentle, considerate and loyal. The greatest friend that anyone could have," said Smither.