Melanie Lowther's death is not what she deserved, but this is.
She now has a bridge named for her on S.C. 46 between Bluffton and Savannah. It's not far from where she grew up in Pritchardville, when the biggest thing in town was the fire tower.
State Rep. Bill Herbkersman said he and other local legislators pushed for the span over the New River to be named the Melanie Lowther Memorial Bridge so that "maybe when we cross the bridge we can pick up some of her kindness to others."
That kindness was the hardest part to understand when Melanie was brutally murdered five years ago.
Melanie Lowther was beaten with a crowbar and stabbed. A gold ring designed by her husband was yanked from her lifeless finger.
The murderer was a drifter down on his luck, or so it seemed. He and his girlfriend showed up with a tale of woe at the Stoney Crest Plantation Campground in Pritchardville in the summer of 2013.
He befriended Melanie's husband, Barry "Barefoot" Lowther, famous for never wearing shoes in running his Collins Septic Tank Service from the family compound on Barefoot Alley off S.C. 46 in Pritchardville.
Melanie and Barry did what they always did. They helped the man.
They lent him a camper to get him out of a searing tent made for kids. They took him to the grocery store, took the girl to the doctor, paid a month's rent and offered the long-haired man with a lot of tattoos work to get him back on his feet.
Yet, that man was stealing money from the company office in a double-wide across from the Lowthers' house when Melanie apparently interrupted him.
You could set your watch by Melanie's morning ritual. She went to the office at 7:45 a.m. that morning. The first thing she did was feed Runty, the stray cat she'd adopted. Barry was already on the road. He saw the man they'd been helping headed down S.C. 46 that morning. Maybe that's why he called Melanie. He couldn't reach her, so he called their daughter, Tuesday Mock, who lives next door.
Tuesday got to the office at 8:06 a.m. and found her mother's body. She didn't know whether to call 911 first or her daddy. Melanie, all of 5-feet-2 and 115 pounds, never had a chance to defend herself. That came out in court as her murderer was sent to prison for life with no chance of parole, and 45 years to be served consecutively for other crimes committed on that day five years ago this month when life suddenly seemed so unfair in the Lowcountry.
Melanie was the second of Johnny and Joy Fender's five children.
Johnny Fender was the first chief of the Pritchardville Volunteer Fire Department and an award for valor in the Bluffton Township Fire District is named for him. At work at Union Camp in Savannah, they called him "Ma Fender" because he cooked for the guys on a homemade grill.
Joy named her first three girls Deborah Faith, Melanie Hope and Holly Charity. Later came Velvia and Brooks. Worship at the Four Square Church in Hardeeville was part of an upbringing out in the country, where kids squirted each other with the hose, rode horses, and played with kids whose family members played with each other three generations back.
Melanie turned 18 on June 3, 1971, graduated from H.E. McCracken High in Bluffton on June 4 and married Barry Lowther of Ridgeland on June 5 at the Four Square Church.
Johnny Fender wasn't pleased when Barry showed up to date his daughter with beer on his breath, an open shirt and no shoes, the old family story goes. So a clean-cut brother-in-law stood in for him, picking Melanie up for dates.
They shag danced into the humid nights at Oak Grove, where the Melody Makers played beach music for teenagers in a cinderblock building deep in the Okatie woods.
They would "cut the beach" by cruising the circle at the All Joy landing on the May River in Bluffton.
On Friday night, they might go to the fire department turkey shoot.
Melanie finally came clean with her daddy, and with his blessings, she and Barry were soul mates until the day she was killed at age 60.
Family was No. 1 on Melanie's list — and not just her two children, Tuesday and Barry Jr., who they called Dude.
Family was anyone who needed help, or anyone who crossed the threshold. Her obituary listed a son who had worked with them since he was a kid and was treated like family, but he wasn't literally a son.
Melanie's sister, Holly Humbert, said it had always been that way in their family. Her grandmother, who lived where Barefoot Alley is today, once took in a couple with three little girls for six months after their car broke down in front of the house.
The family also has been bound by tragedy, "but we don't like to dwell on that end of it," Holly said.
Her mother's oldest sister was murdered in Texas about 30 years ago. Her mother's aunt was murdered more recently on Hilton Head Island, she said.
And six months after Joy Fender buried Melanie Hope, her firstborn child, Deborah Faith O'Quinn, died of breast cancer.
"You do," Holly said. "You forgive. You move on. You take what you go through and help someone else go through it. You say, We worked it. We made it through."
Tuesday said her mother would have forgiven the man who killed her "five seconds after it happened."
She said her father struggled mightily.
Tuesday said the family is pleased that Barry has remarried and that he participated in the ceremony for Melanie at the bridge dedication — in his bare feet.
Tuesday said Melanie was first her mother, but also her best friend.
She has recently been treated for breast cancer, but is 29 months clean now.
"To me, that was nothing compared to losing Mama," she said, standing in a yard with several rabbit hutches, a baby cockatiel on the shoulder of the friend of her son Kobi, and large model airplanes nailed to a tall pine.
Melanie's sister, Velvia Propst, said they called her "Tootie."
"I looked up to her," she said of a sister seven years older. "I wanted to be like her when I grew up, and I still want to be like her."
Melanie was a devout Mormon. She read the Scriptures and prayed. She tried to be a light to the world, friends and family members say, always thinking of others, especially those in a struggle.
Lori Maurer of Hilton Head called Melanie her best friend. They worked together at church in the Relief Society. They made many trips to visit people in Melanie's Ford Expedition, which is still in Tuesday's yard.
"It was always an adventure," she said.
And she said, "Melanie was a letter writer. She was a note writer. She knew the power of words and just the power of kindness."
On the day Maurer became an empty-nester, she got a short note from Melanie, even though they were going to see each other in two days. "That was just her," she said.
At Melanie's packed funeral at the Mormon church in Ridgeland, there were endless stories of little notes — "those little, little pieces of love that she left everywhere ..."
This week, when Maurer was headed home from the Savannah airport, she stopped at Melanie's bridge.
"There I was, talking to this sign," she said.
"I was just telling her 'hey.' I thought how perfect it was. The water, the wildness of the vegetation, the people passing by. Melanie would love it.
"Watching the river made me think of how Melanie flowed through all of us, a little, simple woman who was kind to people — made people feel valued, feel important, showing them that they were loved."