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Henderson community celebrates life of 9-year-old who died in 2015

Blue and white balloons were sent into the evening sky as a loud cheer of “Happy Birthday, Austen!” went up among the crowd at Paradise Pointe Park in Henderson.

The gathering Friday night was the seventh time the community has come together to celebrate the life of 9-year-old Austen Russell, who died after his father accidentally ran him over with a pickup at the family’s Henderson home in May 2015.

The event was anything but somber, with a three-on-three basketball tournament for all ages taking center stage. Families also enjoyed a dunk tank, bounce houses, volleyball and flag football.

Austen’s parents, Troy and Deedra Russell, both said the basketball tournament is in honor of Austen, who loved the game.

“He would shoot so much that the punishment for him was hiding his basketballs,” Troy Russell said.

He said the event was started as a way to keep his son’s memory alive.

Deedra Russell said the event has grown each year and is now a community event that involves about 50 volunteers and the help of friends and local businesses. She sat under a tent handing out water bottles and Gatorade to basketball players.

The celebration is held every year around Austen’s birthday. On Thursday, he would have turned 16.

“It just means that every year he’s just not far from us,” Deedra Russell said. “It’s a way to remember him.”

Troy Russell said the balloon release is symbolic of sending balloons up to Austen in heaven. He said 16 balloons were released this year.

“Everybody goes through difficult things in life, and I think some people can come here and see our story and it’s just a time to maybe forget about their challenges in life,” Troy Russell said.

Deedra Russell walked slowly when she got up to hand out medals to tournament winners. She returned home in January after being hospitalized for 136 days. She was critically injured in a crash in Arizona in September when a wrong-way driver collided with her vehicle. She was on her way to visit her son at college in Utah.

Deedra Russell said her recovery has had its “ups and downs” and that she will eventually need a kidney transplant.

“I’m still here, I’m still around and I think my family’s thankful for that,” Deedra Russell said.

The night continued with an outdoor movie showing of the 2006 comedy “The Benchwarmers,” Austen’s favorite movie, according to his mother.

Contact David Wilson at dwilson @reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.

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