OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Their deaths rocked the Ocean Springs community and devastated many in the school district. Exactly a year ago, mother and daughter Jan and Pieper Niolon were shot to death in their home on Water Cove. On Friday, Ocean Springs Middle School dedicated a special place to honor their legacy.
There was no somber ceremony. Instead, their dearest friends gathered to celebrate their dedication to education.
"Jan would never have wanted us to cry today like I'm doing it right now. And she really would have envisioned this day to be something like this, something that memorialized them," said Nell Driggers, a close family friend and next door neighbor.
Jan Niolon's younger brother was among those who cut the ribbon to open "Pieper's Place."
"Very overwhelmed," said Andrew Pieper. "I think it's good. It needed to be done. It will help the kids."
Pieper's Place is a multi-sensory reading nook in the Media Center at Ocean Springs Middle School. Students struggling to read can use audio books and other resources to help them overcome their challenges. It was one of many causes Jan championed, because her daughter had Dyslexia.
"I really was emotional through this whole process. It's hard to believe a year has gone by since we lost them, and I really don't think we'll ever have closure ever. At least we can feel we've done something to honor them," said Cheryl Cooper, Pieper's Place Committee Member.
The relaxing retreat is filled with photos and whimsical mementos. Friends say it's a fitting tribute to a beloved mother and daughter and their passion for life and learning.
"The custom artwork in the back of the horse with flowing mane, that's Pieper running through the hallway of Ocean Springs Middle School," said Cooper.
"I think it's a symbol of really victory and how this community came together and is capable of turning such a tragedy into something really wonderful that can both memorialize and also help so many people, which is exactly how Jan and Pieper would have wanted and how they lived their lives," said Driggers.
Pieper's Place was funded by the school's PTO and private donations. Pieper was also an avid swimmer. The Biloxi Elite Swim Team plans to hold a swim meet in her honor on April 6.