The sun started to set July 29 as hundreds of people gathered in Chambers Fort Park in honor of their loved one and friend, 22-year-old Abigael “Abby” Bellows.
Abby, the daughter of Tressa and Garth Bellows of Fayetteville, had gone swimming with her friends in Middle Fork Willamette River near Clearwater Park in Eugene, Oregon when she went underwater and never resurfaced. Rescue crews responded immediately and a team from Wisconsin’s Wings of Hope, a nonprofit that helps families search for loved ones, joined in to help.
Tressa and Garth flew to Oregon two days later with their two other daughters, Eliza and Ivy, to help find their daughter. The family searched tirelessly for several days, linked arm-in-arm in the water in hopes of locating Abby. Sadly, Abby’s body was recovered a few days after the vigil, about a half-mile from where she disappeared.
Abigael graduated from Chambersburg Area Senior High School in 2016, and attended Duquesne University as an honors student. She decided to move to Oregon two years ago after a previous visit to pursue her passion for environmental work.
Family, friends and others in the community came together to share their love and support last week.
Abigael’s aunt, Jodi Bellows, sends a sincere message to the immediate family.
“We’re always thinking of them,” said Jodi. “We are sending immense prayers and love in hopes they can find her and bring her home to us.”
Another aunt of Abigael, Deb Cline, said, “It’s just devastating.
We connected on this whole nature of authenticity.” She added, “My heart goes out to all of them. This is something that will change them forever.”
Many loved ones were understandably distraught, while a few of Abigael’s friends were encouraged to share some heartfelt expressions for her, as well as pouring out prayers for everyone.
Claire Jacobs was happy to share profound words for her best friend.
“Abby was always a free-spirited, beautiful girl,” she said. “No one could tell her anything, she would follow her heart regardless. I would do anything just to have her back in my arms one more time.”
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Reanna Russell. “She was a beautiful soul, and it’s sad that it happened to her.”
Lindsay Embly added, “I’m praying for her family. She was a beautiful soul with a love for nature. She would light up a room with her smile and her laugh. We just want to bring Abigael home.”
Leslie Hanks was honored to speak on behalf of the family’s church, Falling Spring Presbyterian, to send a message to Abigael’s family.
“The most important thing is that the whole family realizes the strength from the community, and that they stand behind them and are praying,” she said. “We keep getting messages from people all the time saying they’re thinking about them all day, every hour, every day.”
Alison Welch, Tressa’s best friend, is in charge of a GoFundMe to help expenses for the family.
“We’re all here because we love her and we’re thinking of her, and hoping that she is found soon. She’s out there somewhere and she’ll be found,” said Welch. “It’s just a parent’s worst nightmare.”
While the gleam of light pouring through the trees began to fade, loved ones held candles as a symbol of remembrance and hope for Abby and her family.
You can help by donating to the ‘Help for the Bellows Family’ GoFundMe at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-for-the-bellows-family.
“The whole family has traveled out west from Pennsylvania to help search for her and the expenses are piling up quickly. As the days go by, they will need to pay for food, housing, travel, car rentals, airfare, and more divers, and whatever the future holds for this journey. Please help ease this burden for them as they have so many other stresses right now. Every bit helps. Thank you so much for contributing,” the page reads.
Abby’s family posted the following on Facebook last week after her body was recovered:
“We cannot begin to adequately thank every single person who has prayed for us, cried with us, hoped with us and held our family up. Just after 1 p.m. this afternoon, we received a call from the Lane County Sheriff’s office explaining that a woman’s body had been found less than a half mile away from where Abigael went missing over a week ago on the Willamette River. The bathing suit she was wearing at the time of her disappearance matches the description of the report given on the night of her disappearance. She has been taken to RiverBend Medical Center in Springfield, Oregon, and the Lane County medical examiner will be confirming her identity on Monday. Just after receiving the call from the Lane County Sergeant, Garth and I were standing outside in our driveway of our fenced yard and a deer came into the driveway, stopped and looked at us for a few moments and then quietly moved on. A couple of minutes later, the baby deer came down, looked at us for a few moments and then moved on. It was incredibly moving and beautiful. We know that she is still with us, in the way that she can be. We are completely devastated, and yearn for prayers, love and support now more than ever. We will be in Eugene until we can bring Abigael home with us. This walk is completely foreign to us. We are functioning literally by putting one foot in front of the other. We are leaning so hard on our beloved family, our friends, our community. We are adrift. But, we believe. We believe in what Abigael would want us to believe -- that there is good and there is beauty and love reigns supreme. Thank you for enveloping our family in your love.”
Tressa has also been sharing posts that show just how loved and amazing Abby is, and how she will always be remembered -- for her free spirit and beautiful soul.
Tressa posted the following on Facebook, with a photo of Abby in the airport:
“This is a photo from when I dropped Abigael at the airport for her journey to Costa Rica. She had just finished her second year at Duquesne University. She was craving MORE. MORE of the world. MORE adventure. My mama heart was beating so hard in my chest. I was so anxious and worried. She was traveling internationally, completely alone, to a foreign land, knowing no one, and only comfortable with about 5-10 words/phrases of the language. She had no idea what was next and that was terrifying to me. But, for every ounce of trepidation I held, she was buoyant with joy, with excitement, with confidence. She was brimming with the anticipation of learning everything she could and soaking in every single experience. As she walked into the airport, away from me, I handed her a journal in which I inscribed: ‘As your wings spread, stay anchored by the love of your family. Spread light, travel light, be light.’ I know our girl is pure light.”