GARVIN - Family, friends, firefighters and First Responders gathered on a small piece of land on the west side of Garvin on Thursday night to begin an emotional three-day process of saying goodbye to a wide-eyed kid with an infectious smile.
About 100 people - nearly as many as the city's entire population - held vigil just steps away from where 13-year-old Cody Hartson was found unresponsive in a grove of trees just three days earlier.
Hartson's death was officially ruled an accident Thursday afternoon. Later that day, his family and friends remembered a new teenager who, like so many other kids in small towns, used the city as a playground and rarely stopped moving.
Photo by Per Peterson
A makeshift memorial marks the area near where Cody Hartson was playing the night he died in Garvin.
"He was always running around with a big smile on his face," said Cody's mother, Annie Hardenberger. "He was very happy - a really happy kid. He could take a person who was sad and depressed and put a smile on their face."
"Loved fishing, working on demo cars, camping," Cody's father, Jeremy Hartson, said, rubbing tears from his eyes, his voice trailing off.
A small memorial slowly grew throughout the evening near the site of Cody's death. Posters, pictures, flowers and a basketball brought from teachers in the Westbrook-Walnut Grove School District helped complete the arrangement.
Colorful helium-filled balloons were handed out, and, between hugs and storytelling, everyone took time to write a special message to Cody on them before releasing them into the blue sky. But if the symbolism of the balloons was letting go, it will be difficult to achieve for Cody's loved ones. Now, they're left only with memories.
"What I remember most about him is him helping his dad out with his demo cars," said family friend Troy Jones. "He was an energetic, very friendly, outgoing kid. Just a very loving guy."
Cody lived in Revere but spent time with his mother in Garvin as well where he was one of many kids there who could always be seen outside, no matter the weather. News of his death quickly ignited a wave of Facebook messages from family and friends and quieted an already quiet, blink-and-you'll-miss-it town along U.S. Highway 59.
"To me, this doesn't seem like it's reality," said Jones, who like so many at the impromptu memorial lost his battle against his tears. "It hasn't hit me yet. I just want to see him coming out of the trees. You really didn't have a bad thing to say about the guy. It's hard to describe him in a way. You can't really describe someone like that in a small number of words."
Cody's uncle, Scott Hartson of Hanley Falls, repeatedly used the word "outgoing" when describing his nephew. "Always out-and-about," he said. "He was very hard to slow down, just always on the go constantly. Just the biggest smile."
Jones said living in Garvin, Revere and Marshall during his short time on earth meant Cody had plenty of friends.
"I told one of his teachers about it and she was just shocked," he said. "Losing someone like this wrecks a person in a way."
Cody's funeral is at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Garvin Congregational Church, with visitation one hour prior.