Thelma Holderness never formally met Toni Keller, but the Plainfield 18-year-old had caught her attention.
A janitor at Northern Illinois University, Holderness would often see the teen studying early in the morning.
"I just noticed her every day. ... Sometimes she would look up and smile at me,” Holderness told Patch last month.
At the time, Holderness was helping organize an in honor of Toni, who dreamed of becoming an artist. The money was to pay for food, fuel and lodging costs incurred by the teen’s parents, Diane and Roger Keller of Plainfield, as they traveled to DeKalb County for the murder trial of William Curl.
Curl is accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Toni in what police called a crime of opportunity. The NIU student went missing in October 2010 after telling friends she was going for a walk in a DeKalb park to take photos for an art assignment. Her charred remains were found several days later.
The trial was scheduled to start today, June 11. But for the second time, .
The doesn’t mean people like Holderness and the more than 13,000 members of the “Missing Antinette Keller” Facebook page are wavering in their support of the Keller family.
Holderness is asking supporters to answer the call of the “Summoning of the Yellow.” At the request of Keller’s mother, who has been in touch with Toni’s friends and supporters through Facebook, people are asked to wear yellow to court proceedings in the case.
The color is a nod to Toni’s love of sunflowers. Holderness wants the family members who arrive for court hearings to be able to look out and see the supporters’ brightly colored clothing.
“Mostly, the family needs to see people in yellow,” Holderness said, asking that supporters show up for the next hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, June 12 at the DeKalb County Courthouse, clad in the color of sunshine.
“The judge has ordered these status hearings to be held monthly until the December trial date,” Holderness said.
Supporters are asked to gather at 8 a.m. Tuesday outside the courthouse, 133 W. State St. in Sycamore, Illinois, on the lawn near State Street/Route 64, Holderness said.
“If Plainfield residents who do not use Facebook would like to be a part of this, I want them to be aware of the opportunity,” Holderness said. She stressed that the event is a peaceful gathering, not a protest.
“This is a peaceable assembly meant to be a visual support for the family to see as they go into court,” Holderness said. “Not a vocal [demonstration]. Not a protest.”
The trial delay has been painful for the already grieving family, she said.
“This June 12th date is a bitter pill to swallow, as the 11th was supposed to have been the second time this trial was to start but was postponed an additional six months,” she said.
The “Summoning of the Yellow” is intended to “pray for strength and peace to all who loved Toni," Holderness added. "And for her mom, Diane, that her only request of us be granted and people are seen in the lawn wearing yellow. To show that Toni is not forgotten, a fear that holds this mother’s heart in its grip every single day. And each time the trial is delayed she fears even more people will forget about Toni. But I know we’ve not forgotten.”
Art auction offers moral support
With the trial delayed from its anticipated June 11 start date, the Keller family has opted to donate proceeds from the May 18 art auction to a cause near and dear to Toni’s heart.
Mom Diane Keller reached out to supporters through the Missing Antinette Keller Facebook page, writing:
“In Toni’s honor, $2,724 that was earned at the art auction from the most beautiful people I have ever met, that are walking this with me, has been donated to the Habitat for Humanity of Morgan County. Wanted to wait til I found the pic of Toni sweating in 100 degree weather the summer of 2010 with a hammer in her hand working til she was dripping, but I am too devastated yet at digging pics out as I have to revisit it and never get a rest from crying. Toni was inspired at having to meet the nice family who will be living in the home at the time; now they live there and have a chance at a happy family life.”
Holderness said the auction, held at the Sycamore Veterans Memorial Home, was a way to show support to the family in person, as opposed to online.
“It was a tremendous moral support success,” she said. “Putting faces of real people to the names seen on the site. Looking into the eyes of total strangers and seeing that they grieve as well. I don’t think the family understands the impact this has had on our community. But they understand real hugs and speaking with people who support them. Seeing them show up for them.”
Other ways to help
Holderness said a DeKalb County hotel has stepped up, offering a free room for Toni’s parents and a second room for additional family members at a deeply discounted rate.
Supporters can help the family with other travel-related costs by donating Visa gift cards and gas station gift cards for food and fuel purchases.
She asked that cash and checks not be sent.
“'Missing Antinette' does not have a checking account and cash is never a good idea to send in the mail, so gift cards really are the best,” Holderness said.
Gift cards can be sent to:
Missing Antinette Keller
P.O. Box 102
Kingston, IL 60145