BERNE, N.Y. – The Hilltown community is lighting porch lights and burning candles to honor the life of five-year-old Kenneth White.
Police say Kenneth was murdered by his 19-year-old cousin Tiffany VanAlstyne on Thursday. According to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, VanAlstyne killed Kenneth, put his body in a culvert across the street from their Thacher Park Road home, and covered him in snow.
An autopsy revealed the cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation and blunt force trauma. A motive for the murder was not given. VanAlstyne pleaded not guilty to Second Degree Murder.
Many people in the small community were visibly shaken by the tragedy on Friday, and no one could really rationalize why it happened.
“My heart broke for that little boy,” June Springer said.
Springer has been a longtime member of the Hilltown community. She said she was skeptical when reports surfaced on Thursday about two men in ski masks taking Kenneth.
“This area is unknown for something like that to happen,” she said.
But once police came forward with their findings on Friday, Springer said she was in disbelief.
“We’re sad,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. It shouldn’t have happened. That little boy should be here enjoying Christmas, and she should pay for it. She should pay for the rest of her life.”
Samantha Randio works at the town True Value. She as well as the store’s customers have been trying to process Kenneth’s death; however, she said it’s not that simple.
“It’s just really upsetting, and again, he’s five years old,” she said. “Just, I don’t know what type of person would do that, and I couldn’t even imagine what that person was going through their head at that moment.”
The outpouring of prayers and support for Kenneth and his family has spread to social media. The Facebook page “Lights for Kenneth White” has called on people to post messages and pictures of their own lights and candles they will keep lit in memory of the little boy.
Posts on the page read, ‘God has you in his arms little man. You are safe now.’ ‘Fly high little angel. May you rest in peace.’ ‘This is for you sweet baby Kenneth and your sisters.’
On Saturday, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office will be sponsoring the 26th annual Hilltown Christmas Program. The Whites were originally going to attend, but the family is not likely to be there following the tragedy.
Sheriff Apple said his office has set aside gifts for Kenneth’s sisters.