Lane Graves, the 2-year-old boy who was snatched and killed by an alligator on June 14, would've been 3 years old Saturday.
Lane was snatched while playing near the shoreline at a lagoon at Disney World. He was gathering sand for a sand castle.
To mark his "first birthday in heaven," the boy's family and hundreds of people in Elkton, Nebraska, where the family lives, paid tribute to Lane with the Love for Lane Celebration.
Members of the community wore blue and gathered at the Elkhorn South High School football field. They stood in the shape of a heart before releasing 5,000 blue balloons to "send (their) love up to Lane," the Omaha World-Herald reported.
"Blue is just the color that we chose to signify a little boy," said neighbor Brandi Miller, who helped organize the event.
Lane's family spoke out for the first time since the tragedy.
"Anybody who knows me knows I don’t like to speak but, my baby, I owe it to him to honor him," Melissa Graves, Lane's mother, told the crowd. "So his mommy needed to say, 'Happy birthday, Lanie. You're in our hearts today and every second of every other day.'
"When we were apart, you would tell us, 'I missed you,' as we walked through the door. You would always come running with a big hug and kiss. We all love you so very, very much ... You'll always be Mommy's loving, sweet, baby boy ... We miss you, buddy, and we miss those hugs and kisses."
"Melissa and I often speak of how lucky we were to have spent two years, 11 months and 11 days as a complete family. My wife will tell you those are the happiest days of her life, and I couldn't agree with her more," Lane's father, Matt Graves, said. "Happy birthday, buddy."
Matt also thanked the community for its support.
"What I'm also confident about is that our faith has lifted us up as we fight every day to find peace. We would not have been able to get through the pain without this community, our friends and family, and for that we say thank you," he said.
The Graveses offered M&M cookies because they were Lane's favorite treat. They also handed out small silver crosses with blue ribbons.
The Graveses have said they don't plan to file a lawsuit against Disney World.
The couple also has a 4-year-old daughter, Ella.
Read more at the Omaha World-Herald.