HARBOR POINT COMMUNITY — Tears, laughter, prayer — and ultimately, a message of hope — flooded the grounds of North Lake Community Church Saturday night, where about 90 community members lit candles and offered lovering remembrances of murder victim Chantay Blankinship.
    Blankinship, who attended the church and sang in the choir, was 25 when she was killed a year ago, and her killer has not been caught. Blankinship, who lived in her grandfather’s home in nearby Tamarack Mountain, was last seen alive the evening of May 13, 2016, and her body was found May 15 in an abandoned structure about five miles from her home.
    Several of Blankinship’s family members, including her parents, Steven and Michelle McDaniel, attended the remembrance, held on a peaceful and lovely spring evening — and at the same location where more than 400 people attended Blankinship’s funeral. The church’s pastor, Ron Keener, who preached her funeral, and  numerous church members were present. Later in the evening, the group walked the narrow residential streets that Blankinship frequently followed between the church and the home of her grandfather, Charles Barnett.
    James Stroope, chief deputy of enforcement with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, attended with his wife, Stephanie. Stroope and Blankinship’s family members spoke with each other and embraced.
    The group passed the place in the road from where Blankinship called her grandfather while walking and said she was almost home. She never made it, and Michelle McDaniel speculates that her daughter got in a vehicle driven by someone Chantay knew and trusted.
    Her family called her Tay, and some Facebook posts describe her as having been mentally challenged. She was childlike and attended special education classes in the Brownwood school district and graduated from Brownwood High School, her parents said. In numerous photos posted on Facebook, she is frequently depicted with an engaging and magnetic smile.
    Michelle McDaniel said she believes Chantay would forgive her killer, and McDaniel said she’s worked through forgiving her daughter’s killer as well — although, McDaniel said, she hopes it wasn’t someone she knows.
    Around 8 p.m., Keener asked attendees to form a circle, and he began to talk about the significance of the gathering. Blankinship was “a blessing to all of us,” Keener said. “We’re so honored that you chose to come remember this special young lady. We still have on our church bulletin board the program of the service that day on May 20 here at our church, that was overflowing out here with people. And I’ll never forget that experience.”
    Keener, continuing to address the group, also spoke directly to Michelle McDaniel. “Tomorrow’s Mother’s Day, and certainly, Michelle, our hearts are heavy for you,” Keener said. “ … Life goes on, and we have hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  
     Several church members took turns telling brief stories about Blankinship — some humorous, such as how much she loved pizza, and others reflective. “She just radiated, and you could tell, God was  in her spirit,” one church member said.
    Keener asked Stroope to speak to the group, and the chief deputy grew emotional.
    “There’s not a day that goes by that we do’t worry about your all’s safety,” Stroope said. “I just want you all to know that we’re doing everything possible within our means to try to get this solved. … there’s not a day that goes by that she doesn’t cross my mind. Good Lord willing, I hope we’ll get this thing solved, and I hope it’s quickly. I never thought I’d be standing here a year later looking at the people that I swore to protect and tell you that I don’t have that solved. I apologize for that.”
    Steven McDaniel recalled marrying into Blankinship’s family. He said he’d known Chantay since she was a baby and “I took responsibility for the kids.”
    McDaniel became tearful as he recalled his daughter’s death. “I feel bad because as a dad your’e supposed to be there to protect your kids and that day I wasn’t there,” McDaniel said.
      Later, Blankinship’s family members stood in the darkness and talked with others. “It means a lot,” Michelle McDaniel said of the remembrance. “The church was her second family, and everybody coming together as a community, it’s amazing how everybody has stood by us.”
    McDaniel said Mother’s Day will be rough for her. “I won’t get that phone call from her, waking me up and telling me happy Mother’s Day,” McDaniel said.