Remembrance and hope

02/11/2003 7:50 AM

11/20/2007 5:56 AM

Feb. 10 was supposed to have been a joyous date in Laci Peterson's life.

Instead, the day was marked by solemn displays of remembrance and hope.

The students in the Village Yoga Center in McHenry Village cried, prayed and shared stories about the missing Modesto woman. She was set to graduate Monday, the expected due date of her first child. The class taught exercise and relaxation techniques to pregnant women.

Peterson's yoga classmates released balloons and hung a plaque on the center's wall where Peterson used to exercise.

"Everyone thinks about how Laci is gone," said Elizabeth Te Velde, a yoga student who gave birth to her daughter Charlotte shortly after Peterson joined the yoga class.

"There's a little baby out there that we would all like to know. And when I'm in this class, I can still feel her energy here," Te Velde said.

In another ceremony, Peterson's sister, Amy, and friends met just after sunset in East La Loma Park near her Covena Avenue home to mark the date Peterson was to give birth to her son, Connor.

Her husband, Scott, was home Monday but did not participate in the park observance.

In two television interviews, he said he will continue to search for his wife, who was reported missing Christmas Eve.

"It's hard to go on," he said on KTXL-Fox 40 News.

The candlelight vigil was marked by the reading of poems and a prayer led by Laci's friend Heather Sutton.

"On behalf of Laci's family and friends, this day means a lot to us," Sutton said. "We thought it would be appropriate to join together and light candles to honor Laci and Connor, and to carry this message to everyone praying for their safe return."

The mood was sad and hushed at the evening gathering, mirroring the small yoga group's memorial held earlier.

Of the five women in the yoga class, Peterson had the latest due date. She started the class eight months ago, shortly after learning she was pregnant.

"We were in the middle and end of our pregnancies and it was nice seeing someone who was just beginning hers," Te Velde said. "I was really looking forward to getting to know her and, as she got further along, to act as a guide to her."

Peterson joined the yoga classes in the summer, but missed the first few classes because she was having dizzy spells, said Debbie Wolski, course instructor and co-owner of the yoga center.

"We can all remember her coming in with that big smile and then immediately heading into the bathroom," Wolski said, and the other women laughed. "That was Laci. She was always 10 minutes late and always hit the bathroom first."

It was one of the few light moments during Monday's gathering. Mostly, the women cried and expressed their fears.

"Everyone is feeling a loss, the emptiness," Wolski said, fighting back tears. "I really thought I could get through this without crying."

The students said the ordeal has affected them tremendously. At the end of Monday's hourlong meeting, the students released a bouquet of blue and yellow balloons for Peterson.

"Wouldn't it be neat if they landed where she is?" asked Indi Wilcox, another student in the class.

The candlelight vigil began at about 6 p.m. in East La Loma Park.

Sutton began by reading a prepared statement that included a poem entitled 'Footprints.' Then she led a prayer.

Sutton stood at the center of a small crowd of about 25 people, mostly Laci's friends and family. The group was surrounded by at least two dozen reporters and camera crews.

Following the prayer, Sutton reached down and cued a song by Avril Lavigne. The song was entitled, "I'm With You."

"I'm standing on a bridge

I'm waiting in the dark

I thought that you'd be here by now

There's nothing but the rain

No footsteps on the ground

I'm listening but there's no sound

Isn't anyone trying to find me?

Won't someone please take me home?"

As the song played, many of Laci's friends stood together and cried gracefully. The candlelight illuminated solemn faces shiny with tears.

Afterward, Sutton thanked everyone for attending and politely requested the media allow Laci's family and friends to continue the vigil alone.

"Thank you to each one of you for being here this evening," she said. "I know it means a lot to her family and friends. And to Laci, your family and friends will not give up until you and Connor come home to us."

Bee staff writer Patrick Giblin can be reached at 578-2347 or pgiblin@modbee.com.

Bee staff writer Ty Phillips can be reached at 578-2331 or tphillips@modbee.com.

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