Sam Clayton Kelly's family, left, and Mason Wilbanks’ family, right, prepare to send up red lanterns in a memorial service Saturday night. Walker Kelly's lantern was seen floating in the distance. Hundreds of lanterns were sent flying above at a memorial ceremony for the one-year anniversary of the three young men's deaths.
Sam Clayton Kelly's family, left, and Mason Wilbanks’ family, right, prepare to send up red lanterns in a memorial service Saturday night. Walker Kelly's lantern was seen floating in the distance. Hundreds of lanterns were sent flying above at a memorial ceremony for the one-year anniversary of the three young men's deaths.
"We're here to celebrate one year of our children being with Jesus Christ," said Lynn Wilbanks, mother of Mason Wilbanks, on Saturday as one hundred paper lanterns floated high into the air before drifting out of sight.

Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic accident that took the lives of Madison college students Sam Clayton Kelly, Walker Kelly, and Mason Wilbanks. To honor their memories, their families held a ceremony on Saturday night, in which one hundred paper lanterns were released into the sky.

That night, hundreds of people gathered on an empty field in Madison to remember the three boys. On a small platform constructed in the back of the field, several people got up to speak about their legacy.

Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler delivered a moving speech about the death of her own father and how she grew to be happy for him. She spoke of the people who had come to know Christ because of the three boys, and of the lives that the boys continue to affect today. With tears in her eyes, she concluded, "If I had had a son, I would have wanted him to be like them. We mourn for our loss, but it's truly their gain."

After the speeches were over, the three families gathered in the front of the field and each family took a red lantern to symbolize their son.

After battling briefly with the wind, the families released their sons' into the air one at a time. They watched in silence, as the three lanterns were carried farther and farther away with the wind until they disappeared into the distance.

Tyler Morton, who had been best friends with the boys since the seventh grade, said, "I think the lanterns are a way of us giving them up to God. It keeps us at ease, knowing that they're in their eternal resting place."

A hundred white lanterns were passed out among the crowd. People gathered into groups around the lanterns and worked to light their lantern without letting the wind catch the paper on fire.

Slowly, groups began to release their lantern into the air and watch as the wind carried it up with the others. The sky was soon full of white lanterns. The crowd gazed upward in silent reverence, and soon, the white lanterns had disappeared, as well.

Long after the last lantern had drifted away, the crowd remained.

Some gazed up at the black sky, and some whispered of their memories of the boys.

"Sam Clayton was the friendliest guy you will ever meet in your life.

"He was one of a kind, and there's really no other way to describe him. He's funny. He's smart. He had it all," said Preston Eubank, who grew up next to Sam Clayton.

"Mason was the goofy one, always cracking jokes and doing stupid dances," said Morton with a laugh.

"And Walker probably had the biggest smile and the curliest fro. Walker was one of those people where if you had a bad day, you would go to him for a hug and advice.

" He lit up a room whenever he walked into it," said Marion Crowder, who went to school with the boys.

The wreck occurred Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011, at about 8:30 a.m. on Interstate 55 at the Vaiden exit.

The three Ole Miss freshmen and Madison Central graduates had come home for the weekend to surprise their parents and friends and were returning to Oxford to attend church with members of their fraternity, Kappa Alpha Order.