When Sue Hurst walks down the aisle this afternoon, she'll try to leave behind a heart-wrenching pain that began 10 years ago to the day.
Jeanna North, her 11-year-old daughter and youngest of four children, was abducted the night of June 28, 1993, taken less than a block from her Fargo home and murdered soon after, her body never found.
"I've carried the pain of Jeanna for so long, and I want her to be present at my wedding," Hurst said Friday from Mabank, Texas, where she moved four years ago after a divorce from Jeanna's father, John North. "I thought it would be a real special day to release her spirit."
For some of those who knew Jeanna closest, whether through her life or the tragedy that ended it, today's anniversary marks another point of closure and, hopefully, healing. For others, year number 11 will be no better than the rest.
"They don't get any easier," said John North, who still lives in Fargo. "I miss my daughter every day."
Last December, North visited Sue in Texas to celebrate Jeanna's 21st birthday. Today, when he thinks of how his youngest daughter might have grown, he sees a beautiful young woman, maybe a budding artist, judging from the sketches she left in school and at home.
"She had the inclination," he said. "The potential was there."
On Friday, a day before he planned to visit relatives in Bemidji, Minn., North asked for those who remember to keep Jeanna in their hearts. He had a message, too, for all those who helped his family through the years -- the volunteers who stuffed envelopes and donated money, the officers and deputies who scoured the Sheyenne River for a body, the prosecutors who helped convict Kyle Bell for Jeanna's murder.
"She was a good girl," North said. "And I want to thank everybody."
In a basement corner decorated by a distinguished 29-year career with the Fargo Police Department, Dennis Pederson keeps one keepsake from the biggest case of his life.
In the photograph Pederson smiles beside John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted." The show, which profiled Bell a record five times after he escaped in 1999 en route to a maximum security prison, brought a tip that located the convict in Dallas.
"It would have been easier to have closed the investigation if we could have found her body," said Pederson, the lead investigator assigned to work with the North family. "But I do believe Kyle Bell is responsible for her death ... and he's where he belongs -- in prison."
After retiring from the force last summer, Pederson said this will be the last time he speaks publicly about the case he had focused on so intensely for years.
"That's part of my life that's kind of done now," he said, sitting inside the new lake home where he and his wife, Barb, have lived since June 1. "I just kind of want to move on."
Move on, maybe, but not forget. Today, just like he has every other June 28 since Jeanna was killed, Pederson will remember through a personal ceremony the little girl he never met.
"I'll always remember it," he said.
The toughest one
Soon after she got her nails done Friday, Sue Hurst got away from her visiting family and soon-to-be husband, sat down and began writing to Jeanna.
"I was just thanking God for the time that he did allow me to have with her," Hurst said.
With her new husband, a mechanical engineer she met in Alcoholics Anonymous, Hurst can use Saturday as a new beginning, not only with her marriage, but also with Jeanna, said Connie Holbrook, Sue's sister in Fargo.
"This is probably going to be about the toughest one," Holbrook said. "She's never going to forget her and what happened to her. But if she can leave some of that crap behind and start anew after she gets married ... I think it will be really good for her."
This morning Hurst planned to gather her two daughters, Jennifer and Jessica, and her son, James, and release a balloon for Jeanna's spirit. Her daughter's killer is in prison for life, but Hurst is looking for something more.
"I have a hard time dealing a lot of times, and I'd like to get rid of some of that pain -- that wall that's been around my heart for protection," she said.
"I want to remove that, and when I send Jeanna's little spirit free, I think I can."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538