Woman searching for missing toddler discovers rock honoring area girl who died of cancer
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A rock painted in memory of a 6-year-old Central Texas girl who died in February from a rare form of brain cancer found its way into the middle of a search for a missing Waco toddler whose body was later discovered in a dumpster.
When 2-year old Frankie Gonzales was reported missing on June 1, his mother led authorities to believe he had slipped away while at a splash pad in Cameron Park in Waco.
Waco resident Andrea Lopez didn't know the little boy, but after hearing of his disappearance she joined hundreds of others looking for him.
As the search was called off that night, Andrea and her daughter continued to look by flashlight.
They ended up at Cameron Park East where they found a painted purple rock on a picnic table.
They hoped it would be a clue to finding Frankie but instead it read "In Loving Memory #Layla."
"As I read it I got chills on my arms because I thought ‘how sad this is, yet how amazing’ because here we are in search for a missing baby boy and someone obviously painted this rock," Lopez said.
"I thought Layla must be an angel and she's letting us know she is with us and helping us in the search for this baby boy.”
Andrea put the rock in the side pocket of her purse.
She then joined another search group near Gholson Park looking for Frankie into the morning hours and as she searched her mind kept returning to the message on the rock.
"As we searched through the night I kept thinking 'man I want to know the story behind this little Layla.’"
The next day, authorities announced Frankie's body had been found.
Andrea was at work when she got the devastating news and was coincidentally clutching the purple rock she'd found just hours before with the message she didn't quite understand.
Andrea showed the rock to a coworker who told her about a Facebook group called "Waco Texas Rocks," a group which paints rocks, hides them all over town, and then hopes others will post pictures of their discoveries.
Andrea posted a picture of Layla's rock.
Tracy Perez recognized the rock right away because she painted it following the passing of Layla Evetts, of Riesel and Joshua, whose courageous two-year battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer was well-known in Central Texas.
"Someone posted on the page for anyone painting and hiding rocks, that if they would paint some purple which was her favorite color and put the hashtag #Layla on it to honor her memory. I unfortunately never got to meet her but being a mother myself it really touched my heart," Perez said.
Many who saw the post did know Layla personally. Layla's stepmother was eventually tagged beneath the photograph. Layla's father, Corey, says the discovery was gut-wrenching and encouraging at the same time.
"It was pretty emotional for us," he said.
"In true Layla style she loved little kids and she had a true love for Jesus so I had no doubt that Layla would have been with him that night and helping little Frankie get to where he was supposed to be going."
Lopez knew she wanted to carry on Layla's memory by hiding the rock someplace else.
She took the rock to Corpus Christi so she could place it at the feet of her favorite statue.
"I thought what better spot to leave her memory rock than right alongside Selena who many tourist come to see and pay respects to," Lopez said.
"I placed it alongside her boot in hopes that someone visiting would find the rock and post it and question who little Layla was and then she'd make an impact on them as she did on me."
“It’s just another continuous reminder that she’s touching people’s lives and her legacy living on as we’d hope it would,” Layla’s dad added.
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