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On Oct. 9, 1985, a crisp New England fall day, when Sarah Pryor put her unwashed bowl of Jell-O in the sink and told her father she'd wash it when she came back from her walk along the wooded road in front of her house, neither had any idea of the events her stroll would put in motion. She told her father she was going for a walk to explore her new neighborhood. She put on her headphones and headed out onto busy Concord Road
An international search for the missing girl. A 2½-year effort involving a military laboratory to confirm skull fragments, found less than 2 miles from Sarah's home, were hers. A tearful announcement from her mother that Sarah would be buried on Tuesday January 13, 1998, what would have been her 22nd birthday.
But the 9-year-old described by her father as "a happy, joyous and free child" left a legacy that went well beyond an unwashed bowl of Jell-O and a heartbroken family. Since her disappearance in 1985, Pryor has become an emblem for parents' fears and a tool for a children's safety movement.
"I don't think that there's time goes by that people don't think about it," said Susan Brisk, who was a volunteer in Sarah Pryor's class. Her daughter, Sarra, was a year behind Sarah in school.
"This had a lasting lifelong impact," said Brisk. "You used to think that you lived in the suburbs and it was safe. We don't think that anymore."
Kirby Wadsworth lives near the wooded site where Sarah's skull fragment was found. He has four children. The schools, he said, use Pryor's story to teach children about the dangers of strangers.
At the other end of town, a bronze statue of her sled and her dog "Katie" -- Sarah Pryor's favorite things -- stands as a memorial to her in Hannah Williams Park. It was dedicated in October 1996, 11 years after the gap-toothed blond disappeared. Nancy Schon, creator of the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Boston Public Gardens, has created this design to commemorate Sarah's childhood and precious gift to all of us. "To live each moment fully."
On the Saturday, when her parents announced Sarah Pryor's remains had been identified, families played near the statue, where mourners had placed seven bouquets of flowers. "In our hearts we have believed that Sarah has been in heaven for some time," said Barbara Pryor, as she choked back tears at a news conference in front of the Wayland Police Department. "Now with the positive identification of Sarah's remains, we have a conclusion confirming what we have believed."
At the funeral service in the Trinitarian Congregational Church near the center of the town where she disappeared, Sarah's family and friends painted a portrait of girl who was curious, athletic, shy, kind and forgiving, and whose death teaches important and powerful lessons.
"There is evil among us," Dr. Carl Saylor, the church's pastor, told the packed congregation. "Sometimes ugly, sometimes pretty, always deadly. Evil doesn't have the last word. Grace does."
"We are all responsible for all the children all the time," said the Rev. David Jones, who had been the Pryors' pastor in Pennsylvania -- their home before moving to Massachusetts.
Sarah's mother, Barbara, delivered a tearful and humorous eulogy of a lanky, energetic 9-year-old girl who, in her yellow jumpsuit with her bright blond hair sticking straight up on top of her head, resembled the bird Woodstock from the "Peanuts" comic strip.
Thea Allen, of Natick, said she tells her son and daughter what the statue means. "I always say it was just a little girl who was lost," she said. "I sort of tell them that to let them know it's not safe to wander off."
Garrett MacDonald, 7, understands the statue's message. He said it's about "a girl who got lost because someone stole her." And, he said, it taught him "never to run away and never to run off without my dad."
Middlesex County District Attorney Thomas Reilly alluded to yet another legacy of the 9-year-old missing for so long. When he announced on Saturday that Sarah Pryor's remains had been identified, he mentioned that a waiting area has been named after her.
The area, called "Sarah's Place," on the 8th floor of the grim Middlesex County Courthouse offers peace and solitude for families of victims, said Reilly. The room features a leather couch and high-back chairs. There are books, children's toys, a compact disc player and television. The walls feature artwork by local artists. The rooms stand, said Reilly, so "that we remember how precious all of our children are, not just our own."
THE SARAH PRYOR LIVING MEMORIAL COMMITTEE