All friends and family of murder victim Amber Dubois are taking the time to celebrate her life. Monday would have been her 16th birthday. They boarded a bus at Escondido High School High School, donated by Sun Diego Charter, so they could go together to one of Amber’s favorite restaurants, have dinner and share memories of Amber, who had wanted a big “Phantom of the Opera” party for her Sweet Sixteen. They ended the evening with a candling tribute along Stanley Avenue in Escondido, where convicted killer John Gardner admitted to kidnapping the 14 year old freshman in February 2009 and killing her.

“Just the fact that I know I’ll never celebrate with her… it’s hard,” McGonigle said. “I found a journal recently on the day I gave birth to her.” In it she wrote, “I never knew I could love someone so much,” which McGonigle said is difficult to read now. To mark 16 years since Amber’s birth, 16 people shared their fondest memories of Amber. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think of you. You are the most compassionate person I know. I never heard a single hurtful word uttered by you about anyone,” one friend said, adding, “It’s been a year and half since you’ve been gone and I can’t help but imagine how it could’ve been if you had been here.”

Another friend recalled Amber’s love of wolves. “We would give her a wolf every year for her birthday, and her last birthday, when she saw the wolf, she loved it so much, she licked my face.” Amber’s 7-year-old sister Allison said, “Happy birthday. I love you and miss you.” It was the first birthday where Amber’s family and friends knew her fate. Last October, there was still hope she was alive. Her remains weren’t discovered until March of 2010. McGonigle continues to lead the group Team Amber Rescue. There’s a search and rescue training course scheduled for January 2011.