BEND, Ore. - The family of Kaylee Sawyer, a young woman who was murdered last July, marked her birthday Thursday in special fashion, turning their pain into something inspiring and looking to the future.
Sawyer would have been 24 years old. It's a tough time for her family, as it's their first birthday without her, but the family is keeping her memory alive by starting the KK's Readers foundation in her honor.
Kaylee's mother and a group of friends came together to honor Sawyer by creating the foundation.
KK's Readers collected 500 copies of "Oh the Places You'll Go," a Dr. Seuss classic and Sawyer's favorite book as a child.
Volunteers close to the family and grandparents dropped off the books at the south Bend NeighborImpact Head Start. Those books were donated to the libraries and will provide one book for each child to take home, a birthday gift Kaylee would be proud of.
Sawyer's love for books and reading is now being shared with young children in need.
"It's just a way of honoring her, and I think in honoring her, it honors this community," said Kaylee's grandfather, Jim Walden.
Kaylee's grandparents, Jim and Sharon, wore green ribbons, their granddaughter's favorite color, as they listened to the words of Kaylee's favorite book being read aloud.
It's clear that their love for their baby girl is still strong.
"The emotions going through my body is just gratitude for all the people who came together to honor our baby girl on her birthday, it's just a great thing," Jim Walden said.
Her family never imagined that Kaylee's life would be cut short. Her accused killer, Edwin Lara, is currently inside the Deschutes County Jail, awaiting trial this fall on four counts of aggravated murder.
Last week, Lara coming face to face with the Sawyer family inside a courtroom, during a hearing about testing of DNA evidence.
"It's been a rough journey," Sawyer's grandfather said. "You can't describe grief, it just reaches in and tears your heart out of your body."
The family"s motto right now is to "Stay Kaylee Strong."
Juli Walden-VanCleave, Kaylee's mom, told NewsChannel 21 via email
"Kaylee has always been proud that she and Dr. Seuss share birthdays. Kaylee's outlook on life has always been positive and to never give up on your dreams. Kaylee and my mom spent 100s of hours reading together when she was little. Reading to your child is away to grow their vocabulary, expose them to places and people they way not be able to with out books, it helps grow imaginations and provides the opportunity to have quality one on one time with your kids. Reading has been that for our family. We want Kaylee's name associated with good. Kaylee could not say her name when she was little, so she called herself KK. That is why we call the foundation KK's Readers."