Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2003
Grieving family, friends find consolation in
6-year-old hit-and-run victim's life and wisdom
by Bill D'Agostino
Photos by Kate Robertson, Stephanie Alvarez, and
Amy Malzbender knew how to grieve.
Mourners at the candle light vigil for 6 year old Amy Malzbender
and 9-year old Chloe McAusland.
When her grandfather passed away last year, she gave her mother,
Debbie Melmon, comfort.
"It's OK to cry, Mommy," Debbie remembered Amy saying.
"Don't hold your tears back."
Most of the time Amy, 6, was a carefree girl who placed cardboard
into bowls and pretended it was food for her stuffed animals. But
she had moments of heightened perception.
"She had an intuition that was rare in people, period, no
matter what age," her grandmother, Elyce Melmon, said. "She
was a wise soul."
After her husband died, Elyce said Amy provided great comfort.
"I know how you feel Nanna," she remembered Amy saying.
"You feel as if Grumpy has gone on a trip."
Now Amy is on that same voyage, her body buried next to her grandfather's.
"If she knew that this was going to happen, she'd be more
worried about how we are and not for herself," Debbie said.
On Jan. 28, Amy was riding her bike to Nixon Elementary School
with 10-year-old friend Chloe McAusland, her father, Tom, and 8-year-old
brother, Joey, when she was struck and killed by a car driven by
Palo Alto High School senior Megan Coughran, 18, according to police
A crowd of about 200 came to show their support for 6-year
Malzbender and 9-year old Chloe McAusland with a candle light
vigil held at the scene of the accident on Miranda Ave.
Chloe was also injured in the accident. The crash occurred on the
corner of Miranda Avenue and Arroyo Court, just down the road from
Coughran and Amy lived less than a half a mile from each other.
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Amy's life will be remembered during a 4
p.m. public memorial at Hidden Villa in Los Altos.
"I wanted the place of the memorial to represent her,"
Debbie said. "It is a place of natural beauty, just like her."
Debbie was a manager at Hidden Villa for several years in the late
'80s. She often took her two children to the eco-community center.
"Amy had privileges there that other kids don't. She felt
like it was her place," Debbie said.
Elisabeth Burhenne (left) and her two sisters Catharine
(not shown) and
Marie (right) came out to see the memorial for Amy Malzbender
afternoon. Marie, six years old attended Lucille Nixon Middle
School with Amy.
Last year, Mother Nature visited her kindergarten class and told
Amy to take care of the hummingbirds.
Amy never forgot those directions, keeping the bird feeder outside
her family's home filled with food.
"Amy was a caretaker and a caregiver," Debbie said.
She was also a skipper, a nickname bestowed upon her because she
never walked anywhere.
"Sometimes her exuberance could even annoy," Debbie noted.
Amy was both outdoorsy and tomboyish, defying gender stereotypes.
She loved to ski and hike, but was also endlessly fussy with her
hair before school and fond of pink clothes.
"She had just as many boyfriends and girlfriends," Debbie
said. "She was the only first-grade girl on the soccer field
with the third-grade boys."
On a trip to Glacier National Park, a cowboy watched Amy on the
horse and quipped, "There's a rodeo queen in the making."
One of the many love notes Amy Malzbender wrote to her family.
particular one reads, "Dear Fami[l]y: I love you. You've
been veary nice to
me. I miss the ones that died. Love, Amy." In the note,
Amy refers to
grandparents and their dog, who had passed away in 2002.
Amy also made fairy houses out of sticks, finding the softest fur
leafs for her fairies' beds.
A short girl with blond curls, "she was a little fairy herself,"
Debbie said. "This child was filled with extraordinary love,
not just for us but animals and life."
For her upcoming seventh birthday, on Feb. 27, her parents were
going to get her horseback riding lessons and a puppy.
Last year, the family's husky dog, Zoe, died. For a Christmas present,
Amy got a stuffed dog, Morton, that was her favorite stuffed animal.
Since she began school at Nixon last year, Amy blossomed socially.
She made friends easily and indiscriminately.
Amy also burst with creativity, constantly creating modern art,
like a metallic sculpture that folded tin foil around a junk-mail
disc, with staples resting on top.
One of her last art pieces was a rolled up paper tube that "became
a pretty ball for her favorite stuffed animal," Debbie remembered.
Joey Malzbender, along with friends, leave candles at the
vigil held for Amy
Malzbender last Friday at the site of the accident where whe
As a stay-at-home mother in Palo Alto, Debbie sometimes felt insecure
for staying out of the rat-race to raise her children, and for not
constantly providing them with scheduled activities.
But she is content that Amy got to be a child, and play in her
carefree and sometimes private way.
"I feel so good about the way we took care of her while she
was with us," Debbie said.
At a candlelight vigil Friday night, held at the site of the accident,
schoolmates of Amy and Joey huddled together and sang, "Somewhere
Over the Rainbow" and "You Are My Sunshine."
The next day, Elyce remembered another song that would have been
appropriate. During Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday last month,
Amy was moved by the tragic story of King's assassination and sung,
"We Shall Over Come" to her grandmother.
"She knew all the words," Elyce said.
Of course, the family will never completely overcome Amy's death
and is now struggling to find normalcy, especially for Joey.
Joey, who plays catch with his father on the same road where a
car ended his sister's life, reveals nothing of the tragedy he witnessed.
"Amy helped her older brother step up to the plate and take
some risks," Debbie said
Joey remembered that Amy was sad when he got to go to school first,
leaving her home alone with their mother.
"She really missed me," Joey said.
Joey also remembered Amy dancing and playing in the family's garden.
Days before her death, she hung a small angel on a tree with thin
At the family's private funeral service held last Friday, the priest
performing the service told the family that having Amy for six years
was a gift.
While her grandmother agreed in theory with that sentiment, in
reality she longs to hold Amy in her arms again.
Amy liked to be lifted up and carried. Because of her small size,
she could be lifted and held by her mother for longer than most
kids. "I felt grateful that even when she was older, I could
still carry her," Debbie said.
Tom remembered that Amy used to run into his arms yelling "Poppie,
Poppie, Poppie!" when he came home from work everyday.
The family is still being comforted by Amy's words even though
she's no longer here. On a card written days before her death, Amy
wrote, "Dear Family, I love you. You've been very nice to me.
I miss the ones that died. Love, Amy."
The family has created a memorial fund at Nixon Elementary
School, where Amy was a first grade student. Contributions may be
sent to the school at 1711 Stanford Ave., Stanford, Calif. 94305.
E-mail Bill D'Agostino at firstname.lastname@example.org