FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A day for celebration has become a day to grieve and find new missions in life in light of the first murder in 83 years in Fresno County's Old Fig Garden neighborhood.
Nick Kauls' family and friends are getting together like they usually would, but birthday celebrations are taking a different shape this year.
20 messages are headed to the heavens.
"He's going to get all those notes," said his mother, Lisa Kauls, as she watched 20 balloons fly into a cloudy sky north of San Joaquin Memorial High School. "We did the balloon release where the kids wrote a note on the balloon to Nicholas and it was very emotional. I think it was emotional for the kids but at the same time I think it was very beneficial for them to do that you know, to give them - not so much that they're missing him, but they enjoyed his life. They're celebrating his life."
The balloons mark a birthday Nick Kauls never reached. For Nick's 18th, his Goon Squad ate his favorite lunch on a table at Memorial marked in honor of their friend.
On the table, their shirts, their wrists, and their minds, his memory is forever etched.
"This is something you can't forget," said his friend Sawyer Skog, who served as a pallbearer at Nick's funeral. "It just becomes part of your life. I know for me and I can say for almost everyone here, this is something I'll tell my children. I'll tell my children about who Nick was and what he did, and what it's like to lose a friend, especially at such a young age"
The fog of grief has started to clear for friends like Sawyer, who found a life mission in Nick's death.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life for a long time and I knew how I felt when it all happened," he said. "I just felt helpless and the people who made me feel like I wasn't helpless and who seemed brave were the police and the sheriffs who showed up that night."
Memorial students and staff also donated blood in Nick's name - the gift of life from a community still learning to deal with an unexpected death. Preventing another one has become a new life mission for Nick's mother.
"I'm not going to let this die," she said. "I'm going to keep this in the media. I want the story told. I want the whole story told and the truth to be told because we can't allow this to happen to any other kids in our community."
Nick's mom tells Action News she may send Nick her own message Monday night after a private birthday celebration.
"Thank you guys again for doing this and allowing me to bring the balloons and stuff to school," she told Nick's friends as the balloons floated away. "It meant a lot to me."
Remembering Nick Kauls: On murder victim's birthday, mom and friends find life missions