The intruders kicked through the front door, opened the garage and backed a vehicle inside so it could be loaded, according to police reports. If the thieves came expecting to find cash and expensive items in the wake of the fundraiser, they left disappointed.
The money had been deposited at a local bank, where it was used to pay bills and establish education funds for the children, ages 3 to 8. The burglars took a television, a laptop filled with old pictures, a fireproof safe with family videos and Cory's wedding band.
"The things they took had no value to anyone, except to me," Alisa Blanchette says.
The home invasion — far more than property loss — unnerved Blanchette. She and the children spent the next few nights at a friend's house, wondering if they would ever feel safe enough to return. She hated that the place where she most felt her late husband's presence was now the spot where she felt most vulnerable.
"I didn't know what we were going to do," she says. "The kids were afraid to come back. I didn't want to sleep there. It was just too much."
Manteno, again, came to her rescue. The Police Department put a patrol car outside her house. Friends hurried to install a security system. And everywhere she went, people told her how outraged they were.
No one was arrested for the crime. Regardless, Alisa Blanchette decided her family would not be victims.
"So many people were angry about what happened, I didn't feel alone anymore," Blanchette says. "I realized that I had so many people on my side. We felt the whole town's strength."
A town's love
As the year progressed, Blanchette felt herself grow stronger with each passing day, week and month. It helped that the children kept her busy and needed her attention, particularly her 6-year-old daughter, Addison, who seemed to take her father's death the hardest.
Addison, who looks the most like Cory and inherited his playful spirit, had a special bond with her father. From the moment he named her after one of the cross streets where his beloved Cubs played, he had doted on her.
"My dad? Well, I don't have one," Addison says. "He died."
Manteno, however, continuously searched for ways to keep Cory Blanchette's spirit alive for Addison and her siblings. They paid tribute to him at the local high school graduation in the spring and organized a 5K in his memory in July.
The race was held on what would have been his 38th birthday and was meant to give the family a happy distraction on an otherwise heartbreaking day. The participants all wore fluorescent T-shirts as a nod to the importance of wearing light-colored, reflective clothing while jogging.
Alisa Blanchette hopes future races or fundraisers will be used to establish a charitable foundation for Manteno residents in need.
"My children lost a father, and that's horrible," she says. "But they've also gained an entire town that loves them and looks out for them. I don't take that for granted."
When a relative arranged for a Blanchette's 8-year-old son, Luke, to throw out the first pitch at Cubs game, nearly a dozen people offered to help him practice his throw.
As much comfort as Manteno offered, Alisa Blanchette knew she couldn't stay in town for the anniversary of Cory's death on Nov. 1. She didn't want to stay at home and weep in front of the children, who seemed unaware of the date's significance. She didn't want to stare at the clock all day, reliving each heartbreaking moment from a year ago.
Even Halloween would be too painful for her. Cory had loved the holiday and insisted upon themed costumes for the entire family. In years past, they had been "Winnie the Pooh" characters, "Sesame Street" favorites and "Star Wars" heroes. She didn't have the heart to attempt that this year, especially given that last Halloween ended up being their final moments together as a family.
Instead, Alisa Blanchette decided to take the kids to Disney World for the week, to leave behind all the sad memories and concentrate on making happy ones. Once in Orlando, they could dress up as Disney characters and enjoy the day that meant so much to Cory.