The death of Staff Sgt. Edward Greiner of Ross in a motorcycle accident in March has left his loved ones struggling with grief and searching for ways to manage it.
His family is finding comfort in a cocoon of support from the staff sergeant's friends.
"I told his dad, we have two kids, and now because we've lost one physically, we've gained like 20 because they all keep in touch," his mother, Maggi Aebi of Valencia, said of her son's friends. "It's amazing. It's comforting and heartwarming."
Others have found an unlikely healing agent in a 13-year-old boy from McCandless.
Friends, family and strangers have lit up social media boards expressing gratitude to Tyler Kautzman for organizing the Edward F. Greiner Jr. Memorial 5K Walk/Run in honor of the 32-year-old Army paratrooper -- Tyler's hero.
The event begins at 9 a.m. July 29 at the boathouse in North Park.
"It's an incredible thing that Tyler has done," Ms. Aebi said. "There are so many people who have benefited from his relationship with Eddie.
If you come to the race, you're going to see a few hundred people whom Tyler has touched. He started a family, really."
The friendship between Tyler and Greiner began in 2007, when instead of presents for his eighth birthday, Tyler asked his friends to bring to his party items to donate to soldiers overseas.
He didn't have a particular soldier in mind to receive the items. At the suggestion of his church, they were sent to Greiner, who was serving with the 82nd Airborne in Iraq.
"I heard about the war in Iraq and I wanted to help the soldiers over there by sending them care packages to make them think that people cared about them," Tyler said.
Tyler hoped he would receive a letter in return, or some acknowledgement of the 400 pounds of candy, cookies and other treats he sent with the help of the Yellow Ribbon Girls, a group based in Ellwood City that sends care packages to troops.
Tyler got an acknowledgement -- and a lot more.
When the staff sergeant came home on leave, he made a surprise visit to Tyler's second-grade class at McKnight Elementary School in the North Allegheny School District.
He presented Tyler with the Army Achievement Medal that he had earned for helping to put out a fire at his base in Iraq.
"He never blew anything off," Ms. Aebi said.
"That's how my son was."
Greiner returned to Baghdad that day.
After his deployment ended, he worked at a recruiting center on McKnight Road.
Tyler said the friendship continued, with emails and phone calls a few times a month and occasional visits.
When Greiner came to Tyler's surprise birthday party last year, Tyler's friends were lucky to get the teen's attention away from the soldier.
Tyler's mother, Jennifer Kautzman, said they considered Greiner family. Ms. Aebi described the two as "peas in a pod," both determined and motivated to go after what they want.
"Tyler to some degree was my son's hero," Ms. Aebi said. "He is active and motivated at the young age that he is. My son was always impressed by someone who could take action."
Greiner's death in the accident near Fort Bragg, N.C., has been tough on Tyler.
When he couldn't attend a March for the Military event in Cranberry earlier this year, he decided to host his own.
All proceeds from the 5K at North Park will benefit the Yellow Ribbon Girls.
"I decided I wanted to do it in memory of Eddie's life," he said. "We hope to raise a lot of money to help the Yellow Ribbon Girls and get people to know what a good person he was."
The event has transformed from a 5K to a party in celebration of Sgt. Greiner's life.
An abundance of pizza, hot dogs, fruit, bagels, cookies, chips and drinks have been donated as well as raffle prizes.
Tarra Layne, a local musician, will perform, and Froggy Radio, Steely McBeam and the Pirate Parrot will attend. Fire trucks will set up a decontamination station to spray overheated kids with a water mister.
Greiner's mother and his father, Edward Greiner Sr. of West Deer, will attend along with his sister, Molly Morency. They are looking forward to hearing and sharing stories about their son and brother.
Planning the event has been therapeutic for Tyler.
"It takes my mind off of it," Tyler said, "and I'm doing something in his memory."
To donate to or register for the 5K: www.eddie5kwalk.com.
Correction/Clarification: (Published July 26, 2012) The last name of Molly Morency, the sister of the late Sgt. Edward Greiner. was misspelled in a story last week. Also, Sgt. Greiner served in the U.S. Army. The branch of service was incorrect in a caption in the same story.
Taryn Luna: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1985.