AUSTIN (KXAN) - Barbara Ayres-Wilson comes back to the former home of the I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! shop in North Austin frequently to remember her angels -- her teenage daughters, Jennifer and Sarah Harbison. They were murdered at the shop Dec. 6, 1991.
"We always thought of them as angels after they were murdered," said Ayres-Wilson.
Seventeen-year-old Jennifer Harbison had been working at the yogurt shop for about five months when she was killed, along with her 15-year-old sister Sarah, 17-year-old Eliza Thomas and 13-year-old Amy Ayers. The girls were bound, raped and burned.
Their names are engraved on a memorial placed out in front of the strip mall on West Anderson Lane although the yogurt shop is long gone.
Barbara places a golden angel on that memorial every year as Dec. 6 approaches. She has been leaving treasures and lighting candles at the spot for 20 years.
"To think it's been 20 years since they died," said Ayres-Wilson. "I'm not the same person. This city is not the same city. There'll be fewer and fewer people that remember them being here."
Remembering them in some ways is, at times, even difficult for their own mother.
"I can remember their smiles and the things that made them who they were," said Ayres-Wilson. "I can remember it, but it's fading in my old age, you know. The smells and the sounds of them being here are fading."
Barbara has moved on in her life and moved through her grief. She has chosen to focus on the good memories.
"Remembering what happened in this building, remembered how they suffered when they died," said Ayres-Wilson. "I remembered that and cried about that for awhile and it wasn't serving me well. It didn't respect them any, because they were much more about who they were when they were alive than how they were killed."
"They made everyone else feel better around them," said Ayres-Wilson. "They cared about people, and I think this city would have enjoyed having them here working and raising their own children and making a difference in this community."
As the Austin community marks two decades since the teenagers' deaths, Barbara hopes people will not dwell on the horrible way they died or the details in the long search for justice. Rather, she wants others to simply remember their lives.
"Remember Jennifer, Sarah, Amy and Eliza," said Ayres-Wilson. "If you have a memory of them talk about them this week. Bring them back to life this week."
A renewed friendship
The parents of the yogurt shop murder victims were unexpectedly brought together by the tragedy in 1991, but they continue to support each other as the years move on.
Maria Thomas recently moved back to Central Texas after she says she tried to get away from her memories here for 20 years. Her daughter, Eliza, was one of the four teenage girls murdered there in 1991.
"It's a long time, but the pain is still here," said Maria. "If I could just stop missing her, you know, that would be -- that's the whole thing is that I still miss her. She'd be 37, probably married. I'd be a grandma. I want to be a grandma. It's just, I miss her."
Maria shared some of her favorite memories of her daughter with KXAN News, like her love of rock collecting at a very young age.
"When she was little she had those little overalls on," said Thomas "She would have every pocket full of rocks. We went to the park, and she would stuff every pocket -- the back pocket, the inside."
Maria and Barbara were brought together by their loss and now face this difficult anniversary together.
"Around this time it's more just right in your face, like right there," said Thomas. "Every time I see something that reminds me of her in the store or a parent walking down the street with their little girl."
The reminders of Eliza are everywhere and often painful, but her mother hangs on to the good memories and hopes others will too.
"The good part is they're my memories," said Thomas. "I was lucky enough to have Eliza for 17 years. I was lucky. That was my kid."
Maria said she has no doubt prosecutors had the right guys accused of the crime, and hopes they will be back in jail soon. This time, for good.
Four suspects were arrested: Robert Springsteen, Michael Scott, Maurice Pearce, and Forrest Welborn.
Only Springsteen and Scott went to trial. They both confessed and were both convicted. Tthen they were set free in 2009 after new DNA testing cast doubt on their cases.
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