Community share memories at Merker/Belnap memorial run

GRANTS PASS, Ore.– It’s a story that shook the entire Grants Pass community. Now, in it’s second year, a memorial run remembering the three residents is bringing hundreds of community members together.

While the pain is still raw for some, the memories that were made remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“Being here and supporting us speaks volume,” said Darren Merker, Ryan Merker’s father as he addressed the hundreds that came out for the memorial run.

Two years ago, Grants Pass lost three members of it’s community.

Max Belnap, a son to Cheryl Belnap who described him as “easy going, laid back and was very sure of himself and confidence.”

Then there was John Belnap Cheryl’s husband who she said was a “family man, good father, good husband.”

Finally, Max’s friend Ryan Merker.

“He was the spark and the fun kid and everybody loved him,” said Belnap.

Setting up this memorial run for the second year, it’s given the community a chance to share memories.

“The week before max and…,” said Bryant Kelley, as he paused to collect his thoughts. “The week before Max and Ryan passed away, I had taken them with a bunch of youth out to the dunes and we climbed Smith Rock and so we had a really good time right before they passed away.”

With hundreds showing up to support the run, “It’s overwhelming,” said Belnap.

“They were both really big into family time and so I think they would be so happy with this because it’s a fun family day,” she said.

It’s also a way to help a grieving community find a way back on it’s feet.

“Having this race – it was to raise some funds for the scholarship as well as honoring our loved ones John, Max and Ryan,” said Merker. “I thought it would do those two things but it’s done a lot more.”

Funds from the memorial run will go towards a scholarship fund in Max and Ryan’s name. Every year, two students from Grants Pass High School that embody the qualities of Max and Ryan will receive a scholarship.

NBC5 News Reporter Miles Furuichi graduated from Chapman University with degrees in English and Journalism. He received post graduate experience in Los Angeles in photojournalism and commercial photography. He also spent time in Dublin, Ireland working in print journalism and advertising.

Miles is a Rogue Valley native, raised in Ashland. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking and photography.

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