A friend of Wendell Roberts told him that the killing of Roberts' daughter was like "the 9/11 of Russell County."
Sarah Roberts Hart, 31, a pharmacist and mother of three, was strangled while she was out for a jog last summer. The shock of her death has hardly diminished in the small community of Russell Springs.
"Everybody remembers where they were on June 14 when they heard the news," said Elizabeth Roberts, 29, Hart's sister.
Because they sought to do good in the face of their grief, Hart's family was named 2012's Most Encouraging Kentuckians on Wednesday at a ceremony in downtown Lexington.
Never miss a local story.
Hart's relatives organized a 4-mile charity race, dubbed Run With All Your Hart, that drew 4,000 runners to Russell Springs and inspired hundreds of others in all 50 states and several countries to participate remotely.
The family also created the Sarah Roberts Hart Fund, which has raised $76,000 to be awarded to Russell County high school students who are considering becoming pharmacists or who otherwise "embody Sarah's spirit" of hard work and dedication, her family said Wednesday.
The award was accepted by Wendell Roberts, Elizabeth Roberts and Ryan Hart, Sarah Hart's husband.
The award, given annually by LeXenomics, a non-profit organization based in Lexington, was presented by Eric Marr, founder of the group and race director for Run the Bluegrass. Run the Bluegrass, a yearly half-marathon in Lexington, raised funds for the Sarah Roberts Hart Fund this year.
Hart was an avid runner. She and Elizabeth Roberts had gone for a run along U.S. 127 near Jamestown early June 14. Hart felt ill, so she told her sister she was going to walk back to the car. When Roberts returned, Hart was nowhere to be found.
Hart's family filed a missing persons report, holding out hope Hart would be found safe. But they knew something was wrong.
"We hoped that if she were kidnapped, she would ... be found safe," said Wendell Roberts, 58.
However, "I think we all knew that this was different," Elizabeth Roberts said.
After a brief search, Hart's body was found at the edge of a field off U.S. 127. An autopsy revealed that she was 10 to 11 weeks pregnant with her fourth child.
Police charged Christopher Allman with murder, fetal homicide and other charges related to Hart's kidnapping, robbery and rape. Allman was also charged with being a persistent felony offender and tampering with evidence. He is awaiting trial.
Marr said he nominated the Hart family because he was inspired by their story. The award, meant to "encourage encouragement," recognizes a person or group that inspires and encourages others.
"When you consider the details (of Hart's death), it doesn't sound encouraging," Marr said. "But if they can still move forward, if they can still do things, then we all can still do things. It's extremely encouraging."
More than 150 people attended the awards ceremony at the downtown Lexington headquarters of Able Engine, a technology firm.
Elizabeth Roberts teared up as she thanked the group. She credited the family's ability to inspire others to their Christian faith and encouragement from the community.
"All of that was encouraging for us because it was a time when we were barely making it," she said. "Everyone got behind us. It just allowed us to go on."