FOREST GROVE, Ore. -- Parents of the two young girls who died in Forest Grove after getting hit by a vehicle Sunday night were reaching out Tuesday with a simple, yet special message: Hug your children.
Anna Dieter-Eckerdt, 6, died at the scene. Her stepsister, 11-year-old Abigail Robinson, passed away at a Portland hospital Monday evening.
The girls' family has been in seclusion since the weekend tragedy. But Tuesday afternoon Tom Robinson and his wife, Susan Dieter, of Forest Grove, shared this powerful message through a handwritten note:
"We want to thank everyone for the outpouring of your love and support. We feel it, we really do. We made a point of hugging and loving on our girls every chance we could. We just want to encourage you - hug your kids. Hug and love on your kids as often as you can. Our girls lived a love-drenched life. We know where they are now - we know they are together in perfect peace with their creator."
Anna's biological parents are Randal Eckerdt, of North Portland, and Susan Dieter. Tom Robinson is Anna's stepfather. Abigail is the daughter of Tom Robinson and his former wife, Tersia Theel. Susan Dieter is Abigail's stepmother. Many in the close-knit Forest Grove community said they feel brokenhearted over the tragic loss of two young lives.
"We've known the family for a long time and held Anna when she was just a baby," friend Tom Gable said. "The Robinson family will have many months and years of support, because there's no getting over this one."
Grief counselors were helping students and staff at Dilley Elementary, where Anna attended first grade, and Tom McCall Upper Elementary, where Abby was a sixth-grader.
"I don't think it's hit the students yet, how permanent this is. But they were able to share their memories of Anna, their feelings about the accident, what they've heard about the accident. Also, just their own experience with loss in their own lives," said Dilley Elementary School Principal Angella Graves.
The school district said it was also working toward creating a permanent memorial for Abby and Anna.
Teachers said Anna was always smiling. They described Abby as a positive, fun and outgoing girl.
Young Abigail loved to act. She had recently been cast in a local production of the play "Annie" at Theatre in the Grove.
Tuesday night memorial planned
The Exchange Church will be holding a memorial at the theatre, starting Tuesday at 7 p.m. Organizers said the service was primarily for members of the theatre community, but the public was welcome.
Sharing emotions at church
Hundreds of people gathered at Forest Grove's Sonrise Church Monday night. Pastor James Gleason said the community just needed a place where they could come together to pray and grieve.
"It represents hope,” he said. “Hope that we don't walk alone in this journey. We have our family, we have our friends, we have our faith."
Special fund for family
People who want to help the girls' family with funeral expenses can make donations to the "Dieter-Robinson" fund at any Columbia Community Bank or through the Sonrise Church.
Other locations, including the Sugar Shack coffee stand, were collecting money.
Phil Davis does not know the family but felt compelled to do something. He drove to the Sugar Shack because he heard they were gathering money for the family.
“It just really kinda touched my heart. So thought I’d come down here and donate a little money. Hopefully it helps out,” he said.
Tammy Doner runs the stand. “You feel so helpless when little children, bad things happen to little children, it’s just not right. It’s not the way it should go,” she said.
Doner said, in addition to the money already donated, all of the money she makes Thursday will be given to the family.
As for the ongoing investigation, police said Monday night they found the vehicle involved, but they had not made any arrests. Anyone with information that may help investigators was asked to call the non-emergency police line at (503) 629- 0111.
KGW Reporter Pat Dooris contributed to this report.