AUSTIN (KXAN) — On what would have been Maleeca Smith’s 26th birthday, mom Measha and sister LaTiya celebrated her memory with a small screening of “The Princess and the Frog” and some Chik-fil-A at 12001 Burnet Road.
Measha and LaTiya Smith have visited the site nearly every day for more than six years — on Christmas, Valentine’s Day, birthdays and her “Angel Day,” April 12.
Shawn Amende was found guilty of intoxication manslaughter in the death of Maleeca at the corner of Gracy Farms Lane and Burnet Road in north Austin. The loss of Measha and LaTiya’s daughter and sister has been amplified within the past month, as vandals have stolen from her memorial site twice, leaving her family seeking answers.
“So we came on Mother’s Day and everything was here, and then it happened between that week of Mother’s Day and the following Sunday. And everything was gone, and it was just like, ‘this has to be a bad dream,'” LaTiya said. “This stuff has been buried in the ground for five years.”
The Smiths went out, bought and replaced pieces from the memorial this past Sunday. By Tuesday, the site had been picked over once again.
Adorning the memorial are an angel, flowers, a photo of Maleeca and a cross made by the mom of one of Maleeca’s friends. The Smiths take turns guarding the memorial at night, sitting watch at the site through the early morning hours.
Measha and LaTiya have contacted local businesses on the 1200 block of Burnet Road to see if their security cameras have picked up any activity at the memorial. Given the slope of the hill the memorial sits on, cameras have not picked up on any potential suspects.
“Is that what we’re supposed to do, sit out here every night?” LaTiya said. “My sister was worth doing it, but I don’t know. I don’t even know if that would help fix the problem.”
LaTiya said she and her mother don’t know of other memorial sites recently vandalized the way her sister’s has been. She stressed the importance of memorial sites as more than a bundle of flowers and personal items along the sides of the road: They are a reminder of the enduring legacies and love shared for those who have been lost.
“She was the glue that held our family together,” she said. “She was the one that would just keep us laughing, and so despite all the things going on in the world, she was our home. It was always the three of us: her, my mom and I, and it’s just a piece of our heart that will forever be gone.”
Five days after her memorial was last vandalized, LaTiya and Measha Smith crouched in the rain, planting a new angel and filling vases with purple flowers. Purple, pink and blue pinwheels gently spun in the afternoon breeze.
Nestled at the front of her memorial, a piece of Maleeca’s engine pulled from the crash site sits in front of her photo.
It’s a new addition to the memorial, LaTiya said. The accident is equally part of Maleeca’s memory as her smile, her kindness and sense of humor, she said, and a reminder to a passersby that within each memorial site is the legacy of the person who inspired it.
“I feel like you can’t remember the good times without the bad,” sister LaTiya said. “This is as much a piece of her memory.”