Springfield honors, mourns life of local U.S. Army specialist through candlelight vigil

Balloons filled the Springfield sky Saturday night as the community gathered to honor the life of U.S. Army Spec. Kaylie Harris.

Harris’ family organized the vigil at Commons Park as a way to celebrate her life and shine light on her story.

Harris, a specialist serving in the military police, died by suicide at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage on May 2 at age 21. Her family received news of her death on May 3, but mother Carey Harris Stickford found out later through a note left by her daughter and through conversations with her daughter’s friends that Harris reported being raped by a fellow servicemember months prior to her death.

Since her death, Harris’ family has been advocating for the passage of hate crime legislation to further penalize acts of violence in the military, specifically to protect LGBTQ troops. Such penalties do not currently exist.

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During her life, Harris was a student at Kenton Ridge High School, an athlete, and an avid 4-H member.

Offering words of encouragement through scripture was fourth-generation Army veteran Michael Brideweser, a friend of the family who helped Harris train before she left for bootcamp and who stayed in touch with her as she served.

“There’s too much hate going on in this world,” he said. “But we have hope.”

Her loved ones lit candles before a crowd, each candle holding significance: the grief of a family, the family’s courage through loss, the very memory of Harris, and the love people felt for Harris. Vigil attendees then lit their own candles from the four main flames, spreading Harris’ light across the park.

“We seek justice today for what was done to my sister,” said Harris’ brother, Josh, during the ceremony. “We are praying for change.”

Finally, vigil attendees cast off balloons filled with lights into the sky in memory of Harris.

One balloon that floated above the crowd read “We love you forever… we’ll miss you forever… we’ll remember you forever.”

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