SOUTH PASADENA -- On Friday morning, 3-year-old Ryan Cruz Saldana was gleefully running through Disneyland, his curly mane of flaming red hair flowing behind him.
On Friday evening, Jacqui and Dan Saldana were dealing with a tragedy no parent wants to fathom.
Ryan, of South Pasadena, was hit and killed by a truck while playing outside his cousins' house.
On Tuesday, Saldana's fiery locks lit up social media, as tens of thousands of friends, family and strangers posted messages of love and support on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the now-viral hashtag #redballoonsforryan. Posts came from as far away as New York and Canada, many from bloggers, celebrities, businesses and just regular people who didn't know Ryan or his family.
"Parents aren't supposed to have to bury their children," actress Sophie Bush posted on Twitter.
Alissa Circle, 34, of Orange County, started the hashtag with a post on her blog, Diary of an Addict, on Monday. She said the post went viral overnight and had so many views that her blog site crashed. She said she's seen thousands of posts on social media from all over the world, which is exactly what she hoped for when she wrote the post.
"I wanted there to be able to have a place where (Jacqui and Dan) could go and see where everyone was sharing. ... It's just so incredible," Circle said. "When I wrote that, I was hoping that somebody would see it, anybody would see it, and would post a picture.
Circle, who met Jacqui Saldana through Saldana's blog Baby Boy Bakery, said she chose red balloons as a symbol for Ryan because he loved red and loved balloons, and Saldana told her she wanted to release red balloons at Ryan's funeral.
Circle said the couple, both 29, have been touched by the support.
"When I talked to Jacqui yesterday, they just said they couldn't believe it and it's making them strong, and they can feel the prayers and they can feel the love, and they are just so overwhelmed with gratitude that everyone is sharing Ryan's story and they are keeping his memory alive," Circle said.
A Facebook page has been launched to encourage supporters to release red balloons on Sunday for Mother's Day to support Jacqui Saldana. Groups have been organized at different locations across the country to participate in the event.
"For Jacqui, she just needs the reassurance that she is still a mom, and she was a great mom," Circle said. "This is just tragic that this happened at all, and then the fact that it happened the weekend before Mother's Day."
Jason Verkler, 42, of Alta Loma, at whose house the incident occurred, said Jacqui Saldana was a dedicated mother who frequently posted pictures and stories about her son on her blog.
"Jacqui, she is the sweetest person there is, and she really kind of had a little community going with her blog, and of course everything was about Baby Boy Bakery. She started it after she had Ryan. All she did was for her son, that was it," Verkler said. "She was petrified and scared to death of being a mom and turned out to be one of the best. All you have to do is look at her site ... and see the photos of Ryan and her, you can just see what she put into being a mom and how happy the kid was."
Many who posted support for the family this week knew Ryan from his mother's Instagram pictures and her blogs about motherhood.
And the support has not only come in the form of social media. A GoFundMe page started for the family has raised more than $40,000 in less than two days. A motherhood ministry group Thrive Moms is also accepting donations to help the family at http://thrivemoms.com/blog/2014/5/6/redballoonsforryan.
Verkler's wife Tracey, 44, said Ryan was a happy kid who loved Ninja Turtles, Disneyland and UCLA football - where his uncle Tre Hale plays. Verkler said Ryan attended school in Pasadena, and both his parents work in Pasadena.
"He was just the greatest little boy and just his hair, I used to say his horrible red hair because it was so long and curly. The kid had no fear, he was all boy," Tracey Verkler said. "(He came) over to my house for tacos, and we were having a good time, and then that's it - all of us were changed forever in a split second."
Circle said funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized but will be announced on social media.