Family upset after Mishawaka murder victim's memorial tree is uprooted

Renovations under way at Mary Gibbard Park // WSBT 22 photo

Mishawaka is investing millions of dollars to improve its parks. One of those parks getting a major face-lift is Mary Gibbard, but in the middle of all of the work, the city accidentally removed a maple tree.

Though, it wasn't just any tree. It was a memorial dedicated to Bill Fields.

He was murdered in his home, right across from the park, in 2009.

"When something like that happens it ruins a neighborhood, and so we wanted to do something for the neighborhood,” said Brandi Miller, Fields’ granddaughter.

Miller was the one who found her grandfather dead inside his Grand Boulevard home. He had been stabbed multiple times, the victim of a burglary that ended in violence.

Miller and her family planted the maple tree about six months after Fields died. For years, it grew, the leaves overshadowing his tragic ending.

"We put a bench underneath it so people could sit and watch their kids play at the park, because my grandpa would sit on his porch and watch the kids and the birds and the squirrels,” said Miller. “You know, he loved this neighborhood.”

Now, that tree is no longer there. While renovating the park, crews took it out.

"I drove by and noticed that the whole park was torn up and I couldn't see the tree,” said Miller.

Miller says it has opened up old wounds.

“It was just very, very upsetting.”

Mishawaka's Park Superintendent, Phil Blasko, says there wasn't a plaque near the tree, so they didn't know it was special. He says now that they know, they want to make it right for Miller.

They'll be buying a new plaque and planting a new tree in honor of her grandfather.

He hopes when the park re-opens, even more people will see the memorial.

But, Miller is still upset the original is gone.

"There's nothing they can do to fix it,” she said. “There's just nothing, it's gone.”

Blasko says removing the tree was an honest mistake. He says the city will foot the bill for the new plaque and tree.

The park, complete with a splash pad, pavilion and walking trails will open July 20.

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