'Love, Amy'

Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2003

'Love, Amy'
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 Don Feria

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 reports

A crowd of about 200 came to show their support for 6-year old Amy
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 Amy's house.
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 Friday
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. This
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 was killed.

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 white wire.

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 [email protected]





Palo Alto Online
© 2000 Palo Alto Online.