Last Wednesday night marked 1,095 days since Alexis Murphy last was seen outside a gas station in Lovingston. Or, rather, 26,304 hours. Or 1,578,240 minutes.
Ramonia Vest, Alexis Murphy’s cousin, explained how long it had been as she spoke to the dozens of Nelson County community members gathered outside the Shell gas station in Lovingston — the last place Murphy was seen.
The event marking the anniversary of the 17-year-old’s disappearance featured short speeches and stories from members of her family and the community and dedicated a new banner that aims to bring a conclusion to the family’s trying experience.
“Emotionally, spiritually, physically, it affects you in every area of your life,” said Trina Mur-phy, Alexis’ great aunt. “It’s hard to believe it’s been three years.”
Randy Allen Taylor, 51, was found guilty in May 2014 of murder and abduction in connection with Alexis Murphy’s disappearance. Her body has not been found. The Virginia Supreme Court denied Taylor’s appeal in February of this year.
Vest, who organized the event and continues to host fundraisers for the Alexis Murphy Schol-arship fund, couldn’t finish sharing her prepared thoughts at the beginning of the event before she was overcome with emotion. The fact the event was held at the last place Alexis Murphy was seen especially was difficult, she explained.
Others offered encouragement to the missing teen’s family or shared a song, poem or prayer. Trina Murphy read from a letter she had written to her niece.
“The thing I want to say most is as long as I live and have breath in my body, I will love you. I will make sure everyone remembers you, and I will never give up hope that one day, whether here on earth or in heaven, that I will see your sweet face again and know that you are OK,” she said.
Gil Harrington, the mother of Morgan Harrington, spoke during the event as well. Harrington disappeared in 2009, and her remains were found the following year. Jesse Matthew pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Morgan Harrington in March of this year.
“Please, community at large, I ask you to continue to give your strength to the Murphy family,” said Gil Harrington, who traveled from Roanoke for the event. “I ask you all to remember Alexis. Speak her name aloud to one another. Speak her name aloud to her family. In that way you will not only honor Alexis, but you will also promote healing for her family and for this entire com-munity that continues to mourn the loss of this bright light, this bright, pink light gone from us too soon.”
During the event, dozens of balloons — bright pink in honor of Alexis Murphy’s favorite color — were released into the sky with the vocal promise to “keep hope alive.”
The large banner dedicated Wednesday night shows a picture of Alexis Murphy with the word “missing” and asks passers-by to call if she’s seen. Adjacent to the banner is a small tree adorned with hand-tied pink bows and ornaments. Soon, the tree and banner will be joined by a wood “Alexis” sign decorated with photographs.
“I think [the turnout] means a lot. It definitely think it helps us with the grieving process to know that people, the community of Nelson County still has Alexis on their mind,” said Angela Taylor, Alexis Murphy’s aunt, before the event began. “… So seeing people come out really means a lot, and it means that they’re still supporting us and keeping us in their thoughts and prayers.”
A soft-spoken and emotional Laura Murphy, Alexis’ mother, also was grateful for the support of the Nelson County community and those in attendance, including officials from the sheriff’s office and commonwealth’s attorney’s office.
“She’s not forgotten,” Laura Murphy said. “She’s still in everyone’s heart.”
Nelson County Sheriff David Hill said he felt it was “important to attend” to support the Mur-phy family.
“We’re a community-oriented agency, and it’s very important that we attend these events when available,” Hill said in an email. “Although I did not have the title of sheriff at the time of Alexis’ disappearance or during the conviction of Randy Taylor [in May 2014], I was still part of this community.”
He was a school counselor with the Nelson County school system at the time of Alexis’ disap-pearance and witnessed firsthand the effect it had on youth and parents, he said.
“Most people view Nelson County as being a peaceful, relaxed community in a sense, but the disappearance of Alexis forever changed our county,” Hill said. “To sum things up, I want the citizens to know that we are here to serve and protect them; I also want them to report suspicious activity or persons as well. We can only be as strong as our community allows us to be — if they believe in us and feel comfortable speaking with us, we can face any obstacle together.”
Although Taylor was convicted, law enforcement has not closed the case. According to Trina Murphy, the family receives monthly updates from the FBI. Hill also said his office “will continue to treat the disappearance of Alexis as an open case until she is recovered.”
“In my heart,” Vest said, “she’s still out there somewhere fighting for her life.”