What kind of world do we live in?
An answer to that question came Wednesday evening on the shores of a small pond just three miles north of DeWitt. It was delivered by a little brown-eyed girl in a too-big hoodie who carried a single yellow rose.
Followed by her mother and her mother's friend, 7-year-old Averee scrambled down an embankment and found the pink teddy bear, bright orange basketball and three mylar balloons that marked the place where the remains of Breasia Terrell were found last Monday by a pair of fishermen.
Breasia was 10 when she went missing the night of July 9 or the early morning hours of July 10 last year. After almost nine months of searching and waiting and hoping, the Davenport Police announced Wednesday an autopsy conducted by the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation determined Breasia had been found.
Averee said she wanted Breasia to know people were thinking about her.
"We haven't told Averee everything, but she knew a girl was found, and she wanted to come with us to leave something in this place," said Shayla Hippler, Averee's mother. "We live in DeWitt. We don't know this girl or her family, but we wanted to show we cared."
Hippler wiped away tears, and her friend, Brook Worrick, tried to explain.
"Everyone around here is shaken up," Worrick said. "I've grown up here and lived here my entire life. I think a lot people feel really bad for Breasia and really bad for her family.
"What can we do? We can come here and offer some sign of support, some sign that we care even though we'll never know Breasia's family."
Hippler pulled her brown-eyed daughter close and offered a different answer.
"We live in a sad world," Hippler said.
Others gathered by the small pond.
Katherine Schadt and Jorden Manning made the 30-minute drive from Davenport to scatter red rose petals around the makeshift memorial. A 35-year-old woman who lives just over U.S. Route 61 and a few miles from the pond brought a bouquet of wild flowers.
She didn't want to give her name, but she wanted to leave something behind.
"I drive by this place every single day," the woman said. "I don't know how long Breasia was there, but it's heart-wrenching to think we never saw her. I just want Breasia's family to know we are thinking of them."
Margaret Zimmerman is a nurse who lives on a farm in nearby Maquoketa. She, too, frequents the yellow-dirt road that passes the pond. She brought an array of purple flowers for the girl she never met.
"My heart just sank when I heard they found a body," Zimmerman said. "I think most of us knew it was Breasia — we didn't want it to be her, but that's a hard thing, too, because it's going to be someone's child, someone who was loved and missed."
Zimmerman recalled something she heard just after Wednesday's official announcement.
"Someone said Davenport lost a daughter," she said. "That's true. But I'll tell you, Eastern Iowa lost a daughter. I'm a nurse and I travel for work. I've seen Breasia posters in places like Waterloo and Des Moines and Dubuque.
"I even saw a poster in Southern Wisconsin."
The sun was setting by the time Zimmerman left the pond. The space between the distant horizon and dark, encroaching clouds burned orange.
None of the people who came to the place where Breasia was found knew the identity of the person who left the pink teddy bear, bright orange basketball and mylar balloons.
We live in a sad world. Because sorrow is shared.