SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KTVU) - On Monday night in Santa Cruz, the community came together to honor the memory of Maddy Middleton, the eight-year-old girl who was allegedly killed by a teenage friend in late July.
This party is about celebrating what would have been Maddy Middleton's ninth birthday and remembering the life that was cut far too short.
"All the children in town need some joy. They need some fun. They need to focus on something other than the grief," says Laura Jordan, Maddy's mother.
It was July 28th, when Middleton's body was found. 15-year-old neighbor A.J. Gonzalez has since been charged with her murder.
The crime had a far-reaching impact on the City of Santa Cruz, which has declared October 5th, Maddy Middleton day in her honor.
City officials say a celebration is just what this community needs.
"To try to say where can we go to make sense out of it and how can we make something positive happen out of that tragedy. And I think that's what this is about," says Mayor Don Lane.
"We're sad, we're scared and we're coming together and we're affirming that she was a beautiful kid and all our kids are beautiful," says city council member Micah Posner.
Friends and family organized the event, filling it with things that Maddy would have loved.
"This is about the fact there was an 8 should have been 9 year old child that...you celebrate kids. And we're going to celebrate. She's here, in spirit, and we're going to have a good party for her," says family friend Toni Riley.
And for Maddy's friends, who were forced to grow up too soon?
"It's kinda nice because you get to be a kid another day," says Savannah Reitzell.
And that's what Maddy's mom, Laura Jordan, wants; for the healing to begin. She told KTTVU she already considers this birthday a big success.
"Well I know that Madyson is helping me have the strength. And I know that this entire community is helping," Jordan said. "This is the best way I know how. And this is going to be an annual thing and hopefully it's just going to get bigger and bigger."
Jordan said she hopes eventually to turn the event into a fundraiser and to use it as a platform to educate people about mental health issues.