PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – From a tragedy sprung grace, grit, perserverance to a vision and, finally, reality.
More than 7 years after 11-year-old Abigail Robinson and 6-year-old Anna Dieter-Eckert — Anna and Abby — died in a tragic accident while playing in a leaf pile in front of their Forest Grove home, their parents’ idea to build a park in their honor came to fruition.
“IT’S HERE, IT’S FINALLY HERE!!!,” was the Facebook announcement from their parents Tom and Susan Dieter-Robinson. “We are so excited to announce that the fence is finally down and Anna & Abby’s Yard is officially open.”
Anna & Abby’s Yard has a plaque that honors the girls. But it is clearly not a place of mourning. The family helped develop a play space that is fun and invokes imagination.
It has a fairy theme and even a giant, wood-carved dragon. And it was all built with the community’s support.
“I can’t tell you how many times people came knocking on my door with bags of money, change, $5, $10,” Susan Dieter-Robinson said. “Anna’s best friend helped raise thousands of dollars in lemonade stand money.”
It’s not easy building a park and throughout the twists and turns over the years, they said people in Forest Grove and beyond stepped up to help.
“We were very lucky that we had so many amazing people involved” in the building of the playground. “This park is truly built by our community and the people who really cared for our girls and took care of us.”
Throughout the process, they said they “wanted to focus on the love and joy of their lives — which was every moment.”
The Robinsons said they had the keys to the park’s fence for about a month and that gave them some time to interact with it and their 5-year-old daughter.
“On Monday the fence was down and it was surreal seeing the community interacting with the park,” Susan said.
“Just the last few days where you’re actually in the space with other people, it just felt terrific,” said Tom. “Absolutely amazing.”
Video below by Shelly Heesacker
The girls were playing in a leaf pile
On October 20, 2013, Anna and Abby were playing in the leaf pile in front of their Forest Grove home when Cinthya Cisneros-Garcia drove through the leaves. She felt a bump but continued to drive home, not far from where the girls lived. Anna died in the arms of a firefighter. Abby died the next day.
The next day, Cisneros-Garcia was arrested and was sentenced about 3 months later to probation and community service for failing to perform the duties of a driver.
At the sentencing on January 31, 2014, Susan Dieter-Robinson, acknowledged the crash as “an accident.” She said she forgave Cisneros and did not want her to spend any more time in jail.
“I too have a choice to make,” Robinson said through tears. “I can live the rest of my life full of anger and resentment towards you. Or, I can choose to forgive you.”
“I forgive you, I do. There are consequences to our behaviors. That’s what we taught our girls.”
In May 2017, The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed Cisneros-Garcia’s conviction. The court said Oregon law does not require a driver to return to the scene if they learn later that someone was hurt or killed.
Susan and Tom became a blended family in 2011. For their wedding, Anna and Abby decorated rocks with hearts — Love Rocks — for wedding guests.
In mid-2014, Susan launched a Love Rocks Facebook page showing others how to make Love Rocks.
“I started thinking what if I teach people how to make these and share them as a way to kind of give back – because we felt so taken care of, so held, through this new journey,” Susan told KOIN 6 News in December 2014.
Love Rocks have since been placed — and found — literally all over the world. Anna and Abby’s Yard will have Love Rocks incorporated into the playground’s design.
Then in March 2018, one of the oldest and largest trees in Forest Grove was removed, but the wood from the giant sequoia was used to honor Anna and Abby.
The 148-year-old sequoia was nearly 200 feet tall and stood over the Fitzgerald family house for 6 generations. Its size and roots were lifting the foundation of the historic home on the property, leaving the Fitzgeralds no choice but to remove the tree.
Since the sequoia was no longer upright, it got a second life directly across the street at Rogers Park. The City of Forest Grove will use 41,000 pounds of wood chunks to help build a special spot in the nature play area at Anna & Abby’s Yard.
Now, Anna & Abby’s Yard is open to the public. Go there and play. And smile.
“There really are no words to share how grateful our hearts feel,” Susan said. “I often just sit in complete awe of the people who helped this come together.”