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BH memorial balloon found 500 miles away in New York

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- A Benton Harbor Tigers balloon released in honor of a graduating senior who had passed away was found by a man in upstate New York 10 days after graduation.

“I feel that it was my son reaching out to him saying, ‘I need you to find my mom for me,’” Tonya Towns said.

It was June 11, 2016 when Towns’ son, 17-year-old Tra’Vone Shannon, jumped off the pier along Silver Beach and drowned.

His family has spent the last year honoring and remembering Shannon, culminating in attending what would have been his graduation and accepting his diploma in his honor.

It was on graduation night that the impossible started to be possible.

“This is actually Tra’Vone here,” Towns said, pointing to the case that holds Shannon’s ashes.

They sit on display as part of a memorial Towns has built in the living room of her Benton Harbor home.

Look down to the second shelf, and you’ll see the Benton Harbor High School diploma Towns received on June 9 in honor of her son.

“My son has always told me, ‘I’m going to receive that diploma,’” she said. “And when I received it, I felt a sense of relief.”

It was during that Friday night graduation ceremony that Shannon’s older sister, Shayonna Hamilton, released three balloons in her brother’s honor.

There was one orange balloon, one black, and one with the Tigers’ logo on it.

“I thought it would just, like, bust in the air and eventually fall down somewhere,” Hamilton said. “[I] never thought it would go all the way to New York.”

The June 9th ceremony came and went.

But it wasn’t until 10 days, and nearly 500 miles, later that the Tigers balloon reappeared.

“This is where I was mowing,” Ed Badhorn said.

He lives in Clarence, New York – a suburb outside Buffalo.

While cutting his grass on the afternoon of June 19, the Benton Harbor Tigers balloon landed on his 8-acre property.

“Oddly enough, me and my dog were out here and I see this little black speck coming down from the sky,” he said in a FaceTime interview. “And it’s just like it dropped down almost directly in front of me.”

Badhorn said the balloon landed about 3 feet from him, “Like someone was handing it to me. That’s the weird part about it.”

He’d never heard of Benton Harbor before, so he did a Google search and then decided to call the Benton Harbor Area School District to reveal what he found.

“Then the story took a turn,” Badhorn said.

The district went to Facebook and began searching for who released the balloon.

That led to Hamilton realizing it was one of the balloons she had let fly.

Eventually, she and Badhorn reached each other by phone.

“And I had this guy Ed getting in touch with me,” Towns said. “And I’m like, ‘Who are you?’”

Towns had no idea the balloons had even been released because her back was turned while she got her son’s diploma.

But before long, the two complete strangers became bonded by a balloon.

“I think Tonya Towns was looking for some kind of a message for her son,” Badhorn said. “And I hope I can be some kind of a vehicle to be the guy that gives her the message.

Towns said she’s spent the last year looking for a sign or message from her son – anything to let her know he’s OK and watching over her.

She said the balloon and Ed now mean that, and so much more.

‘[It means] that my son is still here,” Towns said. “I might not actually see him physically, but he’s still here.”

Badhorn said he and his wife are planning on driving out to Benton Harbor to meet Towns and her family, and to return the balloon.

In Tuesday’s interview, Towns also mentioned that July 4th was one of her son’s favorite holidays.

She said she wants to use this story to remind people never to jump off the pier along Silver Beach.

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