Shortly before she died, Jessica Franklin wrote an essay about how she wanted to be remembered.
“I do my best to give back to the community. Right now it’s only in small ways. I hope that I will be remembered for all the little things I have done to make someones (sic) day just a little easier.”
Helping others in small ways could be something like giving change to an old, tired man who asked her for money or asking someone struggling with a tarp in a driveway if they needed help, she wrote.
It was a brief essay from a girl whose life was cut short.
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Jessica was 17 when she was strangled nearly a decade ago. Her body was found under a freeway overpass in the 1700 block of Lincoln Street on Sept. 9, 2007.
In fall 2009, Nathan R. Goninan, then 23, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for second-degree manslaughter for killing her.
He met Jessica at a barbecue on Sept. 8, 2007, after he was released from jail in Snohomish County earlier that day.
Wanting her daughter to be remembered, Cyndi Franklin carved out a little patch of land where Jessica’s body was found. There, she put a roadside memorial that she’s been tending for nine years “to remind people of Jessica” and to soothe her own pain.
“I felt like I needed it,” the 59-year-old Bellingham resident said.
On July 9, Cyndi stopped at the memorial – where the dull roar of Interstate 5 traffic served as a soundtrack and a mass of blackberry and morning glory as the backdrop – to put down new bark, to freshen the space and to put up new laminated pages that give those who didn’t know her daughter in life a chance to know her in death.
Jessica’s smiling face peers out from a page, hanging from a small wooden sword driven into cement. There’s a tin dragonfly and other items that were important to the girl.
Jessica, also known as Jess or Jessi, was Cyndi’s second and youngest daughter. She was a good kid with an old soul. She could be headstrong. She was “definitely her own self,” her mother said. She trusted people. She was generous.
“She was willing to make somebody’s day a little bit brighter – just for a second,” Cyndi said.
Cyndi decorates the memorial for the holidays. On her daughter’s birthday, she brings balloons. On the day of her death, she brings carnations – Jessica’s favorite flowers.
People also leave items at the memorial – once, a Mother’s Day card was left for Cyndi. They’ll stop and offer their condolences while Cyndi’s tending to the memorial, or tell her they knew her daughter.
After a time, Cyndi gathers the items and puts them in a box.
“It seems wrong to throw it away,” she said.
Cyndi will maintain the memorial for as long as she can, on a stretch of road she once couldn’t bear to drive down.
But time has been a balm.
“You learn to accept it. It’s not easier. It’s not better,” Cyndi said. “It’s not so gut-wrenchingly raw.”
As they have in the past, the family will spend the three days around Jessica’s death together.
At the memorial on the side of Lincoln Street, Jessica’s words are found under a picture of her smiling face.
“God reached out to help us through life,” they read, “taking us across the rough road to Heaven.”
Do you see a roadside memorial in your neighborhood or on your commute? Do you attend to one?
The Bellingham Herald is collecting photos and information about these memorials for people killed in car crashes, or who were victims of crime.
Please take a photo of the memorial and email it to reporter Kie Relyea at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include details such as location, and the person it was erected for (if you have that information).
Photos and details provided by you could be included in a future story.