They’re arriving from around the nation and from all over the world.
Teddy bears of all shapes and sizes, cards, framed pictures and handcrafted images signed by youngsters are collecting at a memorial established at vacant lot at the intersection of Dawson Cabin and Ernest King Roads within sight of the home where Mariah Kay Woods once lived.
Woods’ disappearance from her home in the Inez Mobile Home Park was first reported on Nov. 27. A massive, six-day search involving dozens of federal, state and local agencies proved hopeless after the 3-year-old’s body was discovered more than 21 miles from her home in a desolate area of Pender County off Shaw Highway Saturday afternoon.
Her vanishing and subsequent searches involving hundreds of first responders and private individuals brought a community together with one goal of finding Mariah and returning her safely back to home. Within 24 hours of her Amber Alert, the effort to find her had become a national and international story.
Saturday, Onslow County resident Angela Wiles had lived through five days of following the story and decided to construct a simple roadside placard as a tribute to the little girl and place on it a message of love and compassion which read: “SWEET BABY MARIAH WE LOVE YOU!
People began flocking to it immediately. Parents with small children, couples holding hands and individuals began dropping off stuffed animals and signing the board Wiles made available.
“ I never thought it would be at this level,” Wiles remarked Monday afternoon as a steady of well-wishers walked up to a memorial that has grown from one small sign to area covered by four 10-by-10 tents complete with solar-powered illumination and candles with thousands of items placed beneath the covered shelters.
“There have been items sent from every single state in the nation to this memorial as well as toys from the United Kingdom, Africa and we’re told a shipment is coming from Japan,” Wiles said.
Wiles even brought on Navy Federal Credit Union to set an account into which donations can be made to honor Mariah. The fund’s name is “Mariah’s Memory Memorial Fund’ with the proceeds raised going to fund a “permanent memorial such as a park bench or tree,” Wiles said.
The donated toys and other items brought to the site will be showcased as a centerpiece to a vigil planned for Sunday. Wiles said a candlelight vigil is planned for Sunday, Dec. 10, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the site.
Others have stepped up as well to help with the memorial.
High Hill Road residents John and Kimberly Dick purchased lattice and wood to construct into a wooden frame to be used as a side wall and wind barrier of sorts for the western portion of the tents.
“We wanted to do something and this is what we did,” Mrs. Dick said.
As children stopped by with some placing wrapped cookies next to a stuffed bear with the word ‘hugs’ embroidered on its tummy, Chinquapin resident Debra Catalan watched the emotions of people as they walked beneath the center tent where her contribution was placed. Catalan saw two images online someone had created of Mariah of her next to an image of Jesus and in the other the little girl had angel’s wings affixed to her body. She downloaded each image then purchased two, 11×14 frames for each graphic and brought them to the memorial site.
“I had followed it ever since day number one, it’s been heartbreaking. I have a two-year-old grandson. I can’t imagine this happening to him,” Catalan said.
Wiles said all donated toys will be placed properly with legitimate and suitable agencies after Mariah’s brothers get first dibs on the lot. After that toys will be given to Toys for Tots and to the children in the care and custody of the Onslow County Department of Social Services.
Reporter Mike McHugh can be reached at 910-219-8455 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.