Nikki Mathison went first. She ran down the hill with her friends to the tree in Double Rock Park in Parkville where teddy bears and flower bouquets have been placed in remembrance of Alana Dieter, the 9-year-old girl killed when her mother crashed the family car at that spot Monday.
Pastel candles were awaiting them for the ceremony to remember Alana last night.
About 75 people gathered at the oak tree for a vigil at dusk. Even the crowds at a youth football game at the top of the hill paused for a moment of silence.
"Alana went to our school. We thought this was a good way to pay our respects," said Jodie Fridinger, 14, an eighth-grader at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Loch Raven.
Alana's mother, Lisa A. Dieter, who survived the crash, has been admitted to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a maximum-security state mental hospital in Jessup, where she is being held without bail on a murder charge.
Police have offered no clues why Dieter, who divorced nearly two years ago, might have wanted to kill herself and her daughter. Dieter's lawyers and relatives have declined to discuss the case.
At last night's vigil, some cried. Some clung to their mothers or hugged their friends. Some stared silently at the flames they held in their hands.
Brandy Donovan, 12, passed out tiny teardrop stickers. "When gangs lose a member, they tattoo each other," she said. "We're girls. I'm passing out these instead."
You see, Brandy said, Alana was one of them.
She wanted to be in a local recreation league cheerleading group to which many of the girls belonged, but registration was already full this year. The girls looked forward to when she would be with them at these late summer games, said Nikki, 13, who was Alana's next-door neighbor and distant cousin.
Just last Saturday, Alana had been at the park with Nikki, her friends and family watching an evening football game and riding her bike.
For many of the girls, Alana's death was their first encounter with anything approaching tragedy. It was the first time they had attended a memorial service or a candlelight vigil.
At 12 and 13 years old, they had not figured out who should speak, where to wrap their posters around the tree and when they should put down the flowers and blow out their candles, struggling to go on.
"It's hard," Jackie Mathison, Nikki's mother, said, wrapping her arms around one of the sobbing teen-agers. But, she told them, "When you cheer tonight, you'll be cheering for Alana."
It wasn't hard just for the children.
Their parents were struggling to make sense of how a mother who wanted to kill herself could kill her daughter, too. "Why the child? It doesn't make sense," said Aynur Whiteford, a mother of three who lives in Parkville. "People go through a lot and can't deal with it, I guess."
A few miles away, family and friends were gathered at an Overlea funeral home for a viewing and wake service. Alana Dieter's funeral will be at 11 a.m. today at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 8501 Loch Raven Blvd.