Remembering the lives of loved ones who died and left the community of Mitchell too soon is what Laura Bollock has been doing through her Facebook group.
While coping with the death of her two close friends and former Mitchell High School classmates Dustin Durst and Chad Butterfield-who both died together in a car crash east of Mitchell on Sept. 27, 1997 at the age of 18-Bollock was inspired to keep the memories of them alive. Thus, Mitchell's Young Angels Facebook group began in 2014.
"When they passed away, I felt like it brought all of us together," said Bollock, who graduated from MHS in 2000. "But as time went on, my friends and I were losing touch, so I felt like this group could be a place to bring us back together and help us relive great memories of our friends that died."
What was originally intended to be a social media page for remembering her late friends turned into a community-wide grief group for all of Mitchell's young lives lost. Since its start five years ago, Bollock watched the group grow quickly. Within hours of the group's existence, Bollock said there were a total of 300 members that joined. The group now includes more than 2,500 members online.
"It's been special to see so many families and people connect with each other through remembering kids that left us too soon," Bollock said.
As pictures, posts and upcoming memorial events for Mitchell locals that died fill the page of the Facebook group, Bollock is proud to see it unite community members around grieving.
"People can share serious posts, pictures or just write funny memories of those that died. Everyone copes differently," Bollock said.
Connecting to her past, Bollock's message on the page's description section reads, "Long before Facebook, back when we communicated through pagers and meeting in parking lots and country roads, our generation lost some amazing young lives. Often I think of them and think what an impact they would have made if they could have stayed."
Among those young lives Bollock wrote about in her description was her friend Adam Crane, who died in a car crash at the age of 18 near Artesian.
Thanks to Bollock, Crane's mother, Mary, has been a member of the page, which she said has provided a platform for her family to connect with her son. Mary Crane said it is still difficult to build up the courage to speak about her late son, but said she thinks about Adam's humor.
"Our future is our past, and whenever somebody tells a story of Adam, it's so special for me to hear," Mary Crane said. "People don't forget him, and that's the best part of the group."
Crane said the Facebook grief group not only connects families to their loved ones, it has united parents who have said goodbye to their kids at a young age.
"It's so wonderful that the young and old can connect on the site," she said. "Adam and all of the other young kids that passed away are always around us. They're around us all the time."
To join the group, one has to send a Facebook request, which Bollock said she actively responds to as she's the administrator of the page.
"I just really like that families who have lost loved ones can go to the group page and connect and share memories," Bollock said. "Some families really connect with their kids that have passed away through sharing posts and stories on the group page."
Bollock doesn't only utilize social media to commemorate her late friends. Each year, she drives out to the location of the car crash and decorates their roadside "Think" signs with flowers. At the site of the crash, is an old Chicago Blackhawks hockey jersey that once belonged to Butterfield, a heart-shaped bag with Durst's name embroidered on the front of it, and a clay pottery art piece that Bollock's younger brother Lincoln made in honor of the late teenagers.
"It's so awesome seeing their belongings hanging on the tree and knowing they've been there since 1997," Bollock said of the site. "One year I went out there, and I saw a newspaper clipping of their obituaries and it was neatly folded and intact, tucked in the crevice of the tree where some of their items hang. It was powerful.
"They may be gone, but they're never forgotten," Bollock added.