By TOMIE V. PARKS
Feature writer for the Hutto News
To us, Hutto is home. It's simple and quiet, most definitely not a place that's known for being featured on the nightly news.
That is — it wasn't until last Wednesday when Hutto Police Sgt. Chris Kelley was killed during an attempt to apprehend a traffic violator.
In about two seconds, Hutto's reputation as a quaint roadside Hippo-loving town exploded into what the TV is calling a "small but dignified town filled strength, bravery, love and solidarity."
Images of us — the people who live in Hutto — filled the TV screen. We were having fundraisers, leaving tokens of love at the City Hall shrine, praying at the community vigil, consoling the bereft family of Sgt. Kelley or simply taking the time to say a word of thanks to the servicemen who are still out there working on our behalf.
And that is amazing. It's something in which I'm sure we can all take pride.
The following is an account of how and when all of these wonderful shows of support unfolded.
That's right — social media played a big hand in not only informing the town about Kelley's death and the events that led up to it, but also about what people were doing to show how badly they felt for Kelley's wife and children.
One of the first shows of support on Wednesday afternoon came from a Facebook group called Hutto, TX Neighbors. Members were offering prayers and heartfelt poems.
But then at 9:43 p.m., Facebook user Stephanie Limbacker Oman posted a photo of a porch light with a blue bulb with this status update: "My blue light shines in honor of Sgt. Kelley! May he have eternal peace!"
That prompted other users to post pictures of their porch lights in the comments section.
Then came additional blue light status updates from Esmerelda Aleman, Jeff Thurman, Katie Bitz and about 50 others. People were asking about where to buy blue light bulbs in Pflugerville and how to make your own since the local stores had already sold out.
By midnight the Hutto News had counted more than 100 streets in five subdivisions that contained houses with blue porch lights.
By mid-day Thursday, downtown businesses had put blue ribbons on their doors. Some included posters with Sgt. Kelley's photo and a Bible verse or expression of sympathy.
Several roadside memorials were erected along Highway 79 between Taylor and Round Rock. They included blue crosses, star-shaped balloons and American flags.
One of the most impressive memorials is the shrine located in front of Hutto City Hall on Front Street. People started leaving flowers by the cement hippo near the American and Texan flags.
Nobody there could explain who or precisely when the shrine took life, but by close of business Thursday the shrine grew to include stuffed animals left by children who had written crayon colored Thank You cards for Sgt. Kelley.
The Thursday night prayer vigil at Fritz Park was another striking display of community kindness. Several hundred people attended.
The Kelley Family Fund, which is being managed by the non-profit group Hutto Has Heart, was launched Wednesday night. The family has asked that all donations and memorials be made through this group.
"It'll be used for things like groceries, bills and clothes," said the Rev. Alan McGrath from Hutto Has Heart. "Everything that gets donated, 100 percent, goes straight to Sgt. Kelley's family."
Hutto baker Kassy Jiminez from Cakes & Crafts by Kass raised $139 for the Kelley Family Fund Thursday evening during the Hutto Farmers Market.
"I decided to donate $1 from everything I sold tonight to the family of Sgt. Kelley," Jiminez said. "All of the icing is blue to show support. Baking is my craft. It's what I know how to do, and I wanted to use that ability to do be of some sort of help."
The baker lives near the scene of the crime, not too far away from where the first accident took place by the fire hydrant.
"It practically happened in my front yard," Jiminez said. "That's why I've been so emotionally affected by this. I've never had to deal with anything that happened so close to me, and I just wanted to give. I didn't have the money to outright give up front, but I knew I could bake, and I knew I could sell what I baked. That's how I set out to help."
Another fundraiser for the family is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, July 11, at Fritz Park. It will be a Barbecue Benefit.