EARLY - For anybody coming into Early from U.S. Highway 71, the gathering of people in the city park may have seemed like any other group enjoying a nice Saturday outside.
But the large group, which was expected to number more than100 people at points, was there for a completely different purpose - they were celebrating justice.
Those who gathered in the Early city park Saturday afternoon were family and friends of Dustin and Brett Wehde.
-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Janet Lightfoot, of Early, looks over photos of the Wehde family at the celebration of life in the Early city park. Mona Wehde, right, holds her sleeping granddaughter, Brettalynn Pingree, 4, of Creston, as Lightfoot looks over the photos. Mona Wehde is the mother of Dustin Wehde, who was murdered, and the wife of the late Brett Wehde. The celebration was in their honor.
Dustin Wehde was shot and killed in December 2001 by Tracey Richter in her Early home. His father, Brett Wehde, killed himself at Dustin's grave a year later.
In November 2011, almost 10 years after Dustin Wehde's death, Richter was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Dustin's mother, Mona Wehde, said when Richter was convicted in her son's death, she and her family knew it was time to celebrate justice.
"When that verdict came down, we decided we needed to celebrate after 10 years," she said. "Once we heard that verdict on Nov. 7, we said, 'We're going to celebrate.'"
After thinking of possible dates for the occasion, Mona Wehde said they decided on Aug. 4.
"Dustin's birthday was Aug. 1, and Aug. 4 is my mother's birthday," she said. "Dustin was her first grandchild, so we decided to celebrate today."
Mona Wehde said the celebration was open to anybody who wanted to stop by.
"We know so many people in the community, and this was such a tragedy," she said. "So this is an open invite to those who want to celebrate with us."
Mona Wehde's mother, Ruth Thompson, of Creston, said she was pleased to see so many people attending.
"It's nice to see all these old friends again," she said. "All my kids are here today and it's a pretty good crowd. We did get too much food, but that means we get to eat again later."
The celebration featured games for children, as well as a barbecue. Photo albums of the Wehde family as well as guest books were available for people to look at and sign.
In addition, a slide show featuring photos of Dustin Wehde as he grew up and celebrated with family was played.
It was created by Mona Wehde's niece, Dawn Loudon, of Creston.
"I worked on it for several months," Loudon said. "I put together a bunch of photos of Dustin and got some of his favorite songs as the background music."
The slide show ended with a poem written by Dustin's younger sister, Brianna Wehde, at the time of the murder.
Loudon's mother and Mona Wehde's sister, Rita Wolfe, of Creston, said the entire family loved the final product.
"She choreographed it by age and family," Wolfe said. "Everybody who has seen it has said it looks amazing."
Mona Wehde said the day was all about celebrating their loved ones.
"We're here to celebrate lives," she said. "It's about hope and joy and happiness and remembering our loved ones and their memories."
She added regardless of how many people attended, it was still going to be a great day.
"We're going to have fun no matter what," she said. "I really appreciate the love and support and friendship everybody has shown."