LANCASTER – Family and loved ones Tuesday evening gathered at Jane Reynolds Park in Lancaster to celebrate what would have been a toddler’s 2nd birthday.
Aurora-Aryana Madonna Hollingsworth was memorialized with prayer, a Happy Birthday song, and the release of pink, purple and white balloons into the sky.
The 20-month-old toddler died of heatstroke on April 22, 2014, after her grandfather allegedly left her in a vehicle for about eight hours on an 83-degree day in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. North Richland Hills police have charged the grandfather, 59-year-old James Hollingsworth, with injury to a child – recklessly by omission – according to a KDFW FOX 4 report.
Having returned to the Antelope Valley, Linda Marie Hollingsworth, Aurora-Aryana’s mother, wanted to address her grief by remembering her daughter’s life through a balloon release.
“I don’t want her to be forgotten, so today we are celebrating her life,” Hollingsworth told The AV Times.
Fighting back tears, Hollingsworth said she appreciated the outpour of support from family and friends, while noting that it is important for her to do something to address child safety.
“I just want to spread awareness about kids being left alone in hot cars,” she said. “And this happened to me. It wasn’t my fault. My father had forgotten her in the car.”
Palmdale resident Michael Varelas, who recently started his own local ministry, led the group in prayer to bring peace to grieving family members. “It does give you comfort to turn to God,” Varelas said. “When you turn to prayer, you just have peace knowing that your family member has received a victory: being in heaven. They have no more suffering; they don’t have to deal with what we have to deal with here. That’s the way I see it – the easiest way to cope with it.”
Because of recent media attention and incidents regarding the deaths of children left in vehicles, Varelas said he practices more awareness of child safety.
“People just need to be more aware of their surroundings when you have children with you,” he said. “Make sure that everybody’s accounted for. … I make sure, first thing before I take my seatbelt off that they’re ready to go, ready to leave the car – especially when you live in any place that is hot. You have to be mindful of your kids in every place.”
According to a July 29 news release from the child safety group, KidsandCars.org, 18 children have already died from heat stroke this year after being left in cars. The number of child heat stroke deaths in vehicles continues to average 38 per year, or about one every 9 days, the non-profit reported. Additionally, more than 670 U.S. children have died in hot cars in the past 20 years.
An online obituary at FamilyOwned.net reports that Aurora-Aryana (Aug. 12, 2012 to April 22, 2014) was survived by her mother Linda Hollingsworth, brothers Zachary Hoatson and Hunter Eubanks, and sister Athena Hoatson.