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Amber's Last Journey

staff writer

Thanks to the generosity of friends and strangers, child soon will be at peace in her own grave

Colorful balloons, usual a cheerful staple at a preschooler’s party, bobbed forlornly against a bleak winter sky at a gravesite in Holmesville. Stirred by the cold breeze, the balloons, placed to commemorate what would have been Amber Gordon’s 4th birthday, floated silently over a headstone that marks her grave, but does not bear her name.
Her maternal grandmother, Patricia Rollins, could not hold back the tears on Feb. 24 as she placed the balloons and a bouquet of plastic flowers at the Prairie Township burial site her granddaughter shares with a relative neither of them ever knew.

The headstone on the gravesite was placed there for Amber’s great-grandmother, Ila Tharp, who died in 1991. The casket of the child, who dies on June 19, was placed above Tharp’s in a shallow grave.
The child who had little in life, was not given her own identity in death by her father, Thomas Gordon, who could not afford a separate plot or marker for her, according to her grandmother.
“When you go there, you know she’s there, but it’s like putting flowers on a stranger’s grave. When I visit, I don’t know if I want to cry or scream,” said Rollins. Her only consolation is the situation is temporary.
Rollins, of Millersburg, said she intended to buy a plot for Amber with her federal income tax return. Unexpectedly, donors, most of them anonymous, have volunteered to cover the cost of exhumation and relocation of the remains to another section of Prairie Township Cemetery . The total would be more than $500, including the cost of the site and relocation, she said.

A headstone would be at least $500 more, she said. The donations were inspired by publicity surrounding Amber’s death at the hands of her father’s live-in girlfriend, she said.
Beth Bowles was sentenced April 6 to three years in prison for the child’s death. She received the minimum prison term for involuntary manslaughter for elbowing the toddler in the stomach in a fit of rage after she tripped over toys scattered on the floor of their Wooster home. The injury resulted in the child’s death three days later.
Enough funding has been provided to cover the costs of relocating the gravesite, according to Barbara Freeman of Summit Memorials Inc. To prevent money being left over, contributions are no longer being accepted, she said.
Barberton and other Akron-area schools held fund-raisers to benefit the cause. Donations from Wayne County , Akron, Kent, Atwater, Norton, Stow and an Akron nursing home have been forwarded to Prairie Township Cemetery caretaker Leonard Campbell to cover the cost of moving the casket to a separate hilltop site, she said.
Total cost of the project has not been determined because a price has not yet been set for the headstone that will have Amber’s likeness etched into the dark granite, Freeman said. The headstone, that will be set at the new gravesite sometime this summer, is being provided by an anonymous donor, according to Freeman. All donors have been asked to submit a personal sentiment that will be carved on the back of the stone, “not only for Amber, for all children,” she said.

Donors will receive a photo and be informed of the location of the headstone, according to Freeman. Ken Noon, owner of Summit Memorials, will make the stone available at cost she said.
Relocation involves two grave openings and closings, but the caretaker said he is only charging for one. Cost of interring a baby’s casket is $75; relocation would usually be $150, he said.

Steve Byler, who will pour the foundation for the stone after the grave size is determined, said he will work at reduced cost, according to Campbell .
Rollins said, “birthdays and holidays will still be rough,” but healing can begin after her granddaughter is laid to rest in her own site. “At least, we can do this for Amber now. At last, she’ll be at peace. She’s still my baby. She’s still in my heart,” she said.

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