They came from all directions by the hundreds to honor Gracie Snider on Wednesday night, standing in the grass in Manito Park by the gazebo and slowing southbound traffic on Grand Boulevard to a crawl.
More than 500 people came to remember the 10-year-old girl killed in a traffic accident Saturday on her way home from a soccer match. Most came because they knew Gracie or were involved in soccer, but some were there simply because they felt they needed to be there.
Gracie was in a car driven by her Spokane Foxes coach, Nathan James. With them was James’ daughter, Ayla, her teammate and best friend. Ayla is now at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle preparing for several surgeries. Nathan James was not seriously injured.
James drove into the back of a semitruck on Interstate 90 about 13 miles east of Ritzville, according to the Washington State Patrol. The semi was traveling below the speed limit while James was driving at the speed limit, Trooper Jeff Sevigney said.
“(James) failed to recognize that at the time,” he said.
There is no evidence of negligence and no criminal charges will be filed, Sevigney said.
Tom Arnold, James’ uncle, said Ayla was having surgery on her lower spine Wednesday. “She’s very stable,” he said. “She has a couple crushed vertebrae.”
Updates on Ayla’s condition are being posted online at caringbridge.org/visit/aylajames. The site also includes a link for donations to help pay for Ayla’s medical bills.
Spokane Foxes coach Jeff Petruso said the girls were “best buds” as well as “genuinely fun, awesome kids.”
Several of those in the crowd at Manito Park were wearing Cooper Elementary T-shirts, which was where Gracie went to school and where her mother, Gretchen, works. Dave Casteal teaches sixth grade at Cooper and runs a drumming group that Gracie participated in. He taught her older sister, Morgan. “I’ve known her since she was born,” he said of Gracie Snider. “She and I were really close. She ran the gumball machine for me one year.”
Casteal described Gracie as a girl with an inquisitive nature and a competitive spirit who got along with everyone. She also appeared in movies Casteal made with his students. “I needed extras,” he said. “She did everything.”
It was a night for everyone to reflect on the family and friends. “It’s all so fast,” Arnold said. “Everything is so sudden. Give thanks for the day you’re in.”
Gracie’s parents were present at the vigil, sharing hugs with friends. Her father, Jay Snider, wrote a tribute to his little girl on his Facebook wall. “Goodbye to the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate, talented and incredibly beautiful people I have had the pleasure to know,” he wrote. “I love you so very much. Rest in peace G Bear.”
Spokane Foxes coach Chaz Valdez helped organize Wednesday’s candlelight vigil. “I was up in the middle of the night the other night and thought we should do something,” he said.
Valdez struggled to say a few words to the gathered crowd, frequently pausing to regain his composure. “We’re here to remember Gracie Snider,” he said. “Our hearts ache and we feel a deep and tender wound.”
A steady stream of people came up to sign posters and a soccer jersey with messages. Several songs were sung as the crowd quietly listened. Sobbing could be heard and several parents dug into their pockets for tissues to give their children. As dusk fell, small blossoms of flame ignited in the crowd and spread outward.
The microphone was opened up for those who wanted to speak about Gracie and a line quickly formed. One young girl proposed a tribute. “Please lift up your candle and say ‘For Gracie,’ ” she said.
“For Gracie,” the crowd responded, lifting their arms in salute.