This woman honors her murdered daughter each year. This year, Nampa Fire offered help

This Nampa mother has a touching tribute to her late daughter

Tessa Carlson's daughter Ashley Ann was murdered in 1999. To commemorate her birthday, Carlson releases balloons.
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Tessa Carlson's daughter Ashley Ann was murdered in 1999. To commemorate her birthday, Carlson releases balloons.

For most people, they’re just balloons. But for Tessa Carlson, they mean much more.

Carlson’s daughter, Ashley Ann, was murdered in 1999 by then-16-year-old Patrick Lee Harned, who strangled her to death and buried her in his basement in Astoria, Oregon. Harned was convicted on two counts of aggravated murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2000.

Ashley Ann’s birthday is Jan. 28. Tessa Carlson said she used to visit her grave with flowers. Since moving away from Oregon, however, Carlson has started a new tradition: every year, she brings a few balloons into a park, wishes her daughter a “Happy Birthday” and releases them into the sky. Carlson moved to Idaho to be closer to her other daughter a decade ago.

Tessa Carlson tried releasing balloons into the air as a tribute to her late daughter, but they got stuck in a tree. Nampa Fire Department was alerted of Carlson's predicament and helped her retrieve the balloons.

On Tuesday, which would have been two days after Ashley Ann’s 26th birthday, Carlson went to the Skyview Park near the Nampa Fire Department Station No. 2 on Greenhurst Road and sent the balloons into the air but encountered some problems.

Carlson’s balloons got stuck in two separate trees that she was able to climb and free. On her third attempt to release the balloons, the balloons got caught in a tree that was a little bit too high for her to climb, she said.

“It went right into a tree,” Carlson said with a laugh. “(I) let them go again, and they went into another tree.”

Carlson’s friend, Dick Goodman, was with her at the time. He went to the fire station, which is near his own residence. He went inside and pleaded his case.

The pleas did not fall upon deaf ears.

“(Goodman) just said that this lady had some balloons to honor her murdered daughter,” said senior firefighter/paramedic David Alford. “(Helping people) is kind of what we do.”

The fire department took a truck to the park and used its ladder to rescue the stranded balloons. Fire departments get a lot of strange phone calls and requests. Alford also noted this is not the first time someone has called about balloons.

This one, however, was different.

“We looked at it and said we were going to need a ladder,” Alford said. “It’s a good feeling.”

The willingness and generosity of the firefighters nearly brought Carlson to tears.

“It’s just amazing that they would do that,” she said. “I don’t think they would do that anywhere else.”

Michael Katz: 208-377-6444, @MichaelLKatz