SEMINOLE, Okla. - The cool air and a light breeze complemented the orange and pink-hued sky as the sun set on the hundred or so people outside the community wellness center.
One by one a balloon was grasped in one hand, only to be let go moments later in remembrance of Colton Clark and the decade that has passed since his disappearance.
As the balloons floated off into the distance, chasing the sunset, it was a fitting moment for a case nearing its own end, despite having gone cold long ago.
“It’s been an incredible journey. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would be standing here today in celebration," said TJ Sloane, 23, Colton's brother and key witness in the trial of his aunt and uncle.
James Rex Clark, 67, and Rebecca Clark, 61, were convicted Monday by a Pontotoc County jury of nine-year-old Colton's murder, as well as child abuse of Colton and Sloane.
Colton Levi Clark disappeared in 2006. Colton and Sloane, who then went by Homer, had been placed with their aunt and uncle by DHS. The case was originally investigated as a runaway.
In April 2016, investigators got a break in the cold case that eventually led James Rex Clark and Rebecca Clark's arrests and filing of child abuse and first degree murder charges.
Days after the conviction and more than a decade since Colton disappeared, Sloane, and members of the Seminole community huddled together outside the Reynolds Wellness Center for a candlelight memorial for Colton. Most importantly, it was a time to find healing.
"I just wanted my brother to know that I deeply loved him and I did everything that I could," Sloane said through tears as he addressed the crowd. "And I want everyone here to cherish your family and cherish your friends because you just never know when the last time you’ll see them.”
“Just know that we love TJ and we love Colton," said Deloris Underwood, who lives in Seminole. "They are forever in our hearts. They’re Seminole’s two hearts.”
“I love seminole and I just think it’s very important that we make this aware. (That child abuse) happens more often than not and I just think that we need to remember him and let everybody know that his death was not in vain," said Maria Luna-Vital. “I’m not going to cry because he’s in a wonderful place. I know he is. And we can gather around his brother and comfort him just by being here.”
For those involved in the investigation, and the search for Colton, the memorial brings a sense of closure.
"We started on this 11 years ago. It was a horrible situation," said Seminole Police Chief David Hanson, who was a county sheriff's investigator on the case.
"For everybody here, we appreciate you and a lot of the people that are here today were out looking for him, for Colton, 11 years ago, and it’s a heartbreak that we didn’t find him. It’s a heartbreak that we still haven’t.”
"Unfortunately, we did not find little Colton. But that happens sometimes with cases like this," said Kent Buehler, a forensic archaeologist who was involved in the search for Colton's body on the Clark property.
"It’s disappointing, to me, to not find the remains in a situation like this. But the events of this week make all the effort, from everybody, worth it.”
Sloane, who now lives in Memphis, says since coming forward with his story, he's gained family because of the Seminole community. He also wants his story, and Colton's story, to be heard by other children afraid to come forward, or ask for help.
"This, tonight, was not to be sad or to feel sorry for me or to feel sorry for (Colton)," Sloane said. "This is a celebration. He only lived for nine years, but he lived those nine years to his full potential.”
The Clarks face life in prison, without parole. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for December.