Michael "Walker" Vincent's birthday cake was still in the refrigerator. The pick-up truck his father gave him for Christmas was still parked outside. Sunday would have been the teen's 16th birthday.

Instead, it was an emotional day for everyone who knew Walker.

"Everybody loved him," said friend and classmate Meredith Trahan. "He never failed to make anyone laugh. He was the light of everything. Honestly, he was just such a bright person. He lit up the room."

Walker and his mother, Gretchen Vincent, died in a fiery plane crash Saturday morning in Lafayette. They were on their way to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta to cheer on the LSU Tigers to victory over the Oklahoma Sooners.

"I feel like the whole town is mourning their loss," said Leslie Jacobs, a Lafayette dentist and close friend of the Vincent family. "It's not just his school friends or his tennis friends. Chris and Gretchen were so kind and genuine. They touched so many lives. I know the whole town is mourning."

An emotional Chris Vincent brought his son's birthday cake to Jacobs' house Sunday afternoon, where Walker's friends, classmates and fellow tennis players had gathered for a birthday party of sorts.

Jacobs' daughter, Callie, came up with the idea to throw a birthday party in memory of Walker, who has been her best friend since they met at the age of 3 at Ascension Episcopal School.

The teens sang "Happy Birthday" and blew out the candles on the cake.

They also presented Chris Vincent with a poster board filled with handwritten memories and photos of Walker with his friends.

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Class mates surround a table with photos of Walker Vincent during a 16th birthday party for Walker at Leslie Jacob's home on Sunday, December 29, 2019 in Lafayette, LA. Walker Vincent was one of the fatalities in the plane crash on Saturday. Family and friends threw him a birthday party where they released LSU balloons and marked gifts with their favorite memories of Walker for his father.

"I love and miss you so much," friend and classmate Cole Simon wrote. "I grew up with you my whole life, and I will not forget one second we had together. Wrecking golf carts in (Grand Isle) all the way to walking miles (through) the marsh. I will never forget you Walker."

In addition to Walker and Gretchen Vincent, Saturday's plane crash claimed the lives of the pilot, Ian E. Biggs, and passengers Robert Vaughn Crisp II and Carley McCord. 

Stephen "Wade" Berzas, the only one of the six aboard the plane to survive the crash, remains hospitalized in critical condition at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette.

Another person, Danielle Truxillo Britt, is hospitalized at University Medical Center in New Orleans after suffering serious burns when her vehicle flipped and caught on fire as the plane crashed to the ground.

Chris Vincent didn't just lose his wife and only child in the crash. He also lost key people at Global Data Systems, of which he serves as president.

Crisp was the company's vice president of operations, and Biggs worked as a pilot and aircraft manager for the company. Berzas, who remains hospitalized in critical condition, works as vice president of sales.

The Rev. Jacob Aranza, pastor of Our Saviors Church, offered advice at Sunday's gathering to help friends and family through the grieving process.

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Classmates get ready to release balloons during a 16th birthday party for Walker Vincent at Leslie Jacob's home on Sunday, December 29, 2019 in Lafayette, LA. Walker Vincent was one of the fatalities in the plane crash on Saturday. Family and friends threw him a birthday party where they released LSU balloons and maked gifts with their favorite memories of Walker for his father.

Aranza said he understands all too well what it is to lose someone young. His own son died four years ago in a motorcycle crash at the age of 20.

"Every day — about 15 times a day — I pass by the very spot on the street where he went to be with the Lord," Aranza told the teens. "And I have two opportunities: One is to think of what I missed, and the other is to thank God for every wonderful moment that God gave me of his 20 years.

"And today, we're here to thank God for the wonderful time that God gave everyone here with Walker. Every memory. Every laugh. His personality. The little dumb dances he did —"

Laughter erupted in the room.

That's how the birthday gathering went.

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A note written on a balloon for Walker Vincent during a 16th birthday party for Walker at Leslie Jacob's home on Sunday, December 29, 2019 in Lafayette, LA. Walker Vincent was one of the fatalities in the plane crash on Saturday. Family and friends threw him a birthday party where they released LSU balloons and marked gifts with their favorite memories of Walker for his father.

Silent moments, punctuated by sniffles, were interrupted by laughter as Walker's friends remembered the good times they'd had together.

And as the teens gathered outside of the Jacobs' home to release purple and gold balloons, the wind picked up and the sky opened up.

Rain poured down as they watched their balloons disappear into the gray clouds above.

"Walker would," one teen said with a nervous laugh. 

"Walker would," a few more said in agreement, smiling through the tears. "Walker would."


Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.