CALGARY - Hundreds of green balloons, with a smattering of yellow and blue thrown in for good measure, flew high Tuesday evening over the Calgary park where five-year-old Nathan O'Brien used to love to play.

The balloons were released in many communities across Alberta, a show of support for the families of the boy and his grandparents Alvin and Kathy Liknes, who police now believe were slain after they vanished June 29.

No bodies have been found.

Tears rolled down Rod O'Brien's face as he tried to comfort his son Luke, who had his arms wrapped around his neck. He had one arm around his wife, Jennifer, as they huddled together to watch the balloons fly away.

Each one of the balloons contained a message written in felt pen.

"We love you, Nathan," read one.

The tribute came hours after Calgary police officially laid charges against Douglas Garland, 54, who had been under investigation in the trio's disappearance. Garland has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of the older couple and second-degree murder in the death of the little boy.

Several family members took in the ceremony in the playground directly across the street from the O'Brien home.

"They're absolutely crushed," said Jeff Liknes, who has been staying with his sister, Jennifer.

"I never would have been able to go through this without my family. It's nice that people are looking out for us. People that I've never met before have come out to show their support. It's amazing, actually."

Like other family members, he has not given up hope that his parents and nephew may still come home safely.

"I know the cops don't really think so but I know my mom is really strong," he said. "My parents were really strong. There's just so much energy and so much life in them. If anybody's going to make it through this it's going to be them."

Negin Elsami runs a local dayhome and had taken care of both Nathan and his two younger brothers.

"He was such a sweet little boy," Elsami said, wiping away a tear. "I've known him since he was 11 months and he was very kind, very helpful, always hugging everyone. He was so excited about finishing his kindergarten and going into Grade 1.

"It's heartbreaking. I can't believe it and I'm just praying and hoping that he's alive and he's coming back to us."

Shortly after the trio disappeared, Nathan's parents issued a tearful plea through the media asking for their return and urging their "superhero'' son to be brave.

A memorial that started Monday on the front lawn of the grandparents' home has grown to include flowers, balloons, teddy bears and a children's Superman shirt.

An acreage near Airdrie, Alta., where Garland lived has been the focus of a massive search by police and on Tuesday, two mothers in the community organized a civilian search party to begin looking for clues or evidence that could lead police to the bodies.

One of the organizers, Tara Murphy, said they won’t go on to private property without permission and will speak with rural landowners to echo Hanson’s message to search land for anything suspicious.

Murphy said police haven’t approved the search but also haven’t told the group not to do it.

Despite the charges, police Chief Rick Hanson has said the case is not closed and investigators will continue to search for the bodies.

Hanson renewed calls for rural property owners to search their land for anything out of the ordinary.

Garland has ties to the Liknes family. His sister is in a relationship with a member of the Liknes family.

Police earlier said they were looking into whether there was a business connection to the missing persons file.

Alvin Liknes was involved in several oil and gas companies, including Winter Petroleum Ltd., which media reports say was forced to close a few weeks ago. The CBC has quoted a police source as saying Garland and Alvin Liknes had a dispute over a patent for a gas device.

Court documents show Garland has a criminal record and mental issues.

In 2000, he was sentenced to 39 months for making amphetamines at his parents' farm. Before he went to prison, he jumped bail and lived for several years in Vancouver using the identity of a dead person.

The Parole Board of Canada gave him accelerated release after six months, noting in its decision that Garland's prior criminal record consisted of various property offences over the course of 20 years.

His mental health played a role in the crimes, the board said, but a psychologist determined that Garland had "little violence potential to others.'' It ordered a psychologist and psychiatrist to closely monitor him during his release.

Garland's next court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday.

— With files from CFFR

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  • Mourners have placed flowers, notes and teddy bears at an impromptu memorial for Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, at the Liknes home in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

  • Flowers and teddy bears are shown at an impromptu memorial for Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, at the Liknes home in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, July 15, 2014. A man who has been under investigation in the disappearance of a Calgary boy and his grandparents has been formally charged with their murders.

  • Bobbi-Jo Zimmer, from High River, Alta., and her children, left to right, Tayvon, two, Braylon, seven, and Dawson, nine, place flowers at an impromptu memorial for Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, at the Liknes home in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

  • Mourners have placed flowers, notes and teddy bears at an impromptu memorial for Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, at the Liknes home in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

  • Kelley MacAuley observes a memorial after placing flowers at an impromptu memorial for Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, at the Liknes home in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

  • Jennifer Kohut, centre, embraces her sons Axton, left, three, and Cadon, five, after placing flowers and toys at an impromptu memorial for Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, at the Liknes home in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

  • Douglas Garland is escorted into a Calgary police station in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents in Calgary, Alta., Monday, July 14, 2014.

  • Douglas Garland is escorted into a Calgary police station in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents in Calgary, Alta., Monday, July 14, 2014.

  • Douglas Garland is escorted into a Calgary police station in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents in Calgary, Alta., Monday, July 14, 2014.

  • Douglas Garland is escorted into a Calgary police station in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents in Calgary, Alta., Monday, July 14, 2014.

  • Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson says first and second degree murder charges are being filed in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Monday, July 14, 2014.

  • Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson says first and second degree murder charges are being filed in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Monday, July 14, 2014.

  • Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson says first and second degree murder charges are being filed in connection with the disappearance of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Monday, July 14, 2014.

  • People comfort each other at a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • People comfort each other at a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • Volunteers prepare candles at a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • A photo collage of the Liknes and O'Brien family is displayed as neighbors, friends and relatives hold a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • Rod O'Brien, centre, tears up as he looks at a photo collage of the Liknes and O'Brien family during a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • A photo collage of the Liknes and O'Brien family is displayed as neighbors, friends and relatives hold a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • Rod O'Brien, centre, father of Nathan O'Brien, attends with neighbors, friends and relatives, a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • Jennifer O'Brien, left, mother of Nathan O'Brien, attends with neighbors, friends and relatives, a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • Rod O'Brien, and Jennifer O'Brien attend a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • Neighbors, friends and relatives hold a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • Rod O'Brien, right, and Jennifer O'Brien, centre, attend a candlelight vigil for missing Calgarians Nathan O'Brien, five, and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, July 10, 2014.

  • Police investigators comb a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Monday, July 7, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators use an inflatable raft in a slough north of Airdrie, Alta., Monday, July 7, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators prepare to search a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Monday, July 7, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators prepare to search a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Monday, July 7, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators prepare to search a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Monday, July 7, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators prepare to search a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Monday, July 7, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators at a rural residence north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators comb a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators comb a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators comb a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators comb a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators comb a hay field north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators at a rural residence north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Police investigators at a rural residence north of Airdrie, Alta., Saturday, July 5, 2014, looking for clues to the disappearance of three people.

  • Rod O'Brien wipes his tears while holding a butterfly made by his son as he speaks to the media about his son Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

  • Rod and Jennifer O'Brien show their emotions as they speak to the media about their son Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

  • Rod and Jennifer O'Brien left, look on as Jeff Liknes, second from right, speaks to the media about his nephew Nathan O'Brien and his parents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

  • Jennifer O'Brien holds a piece of her son's clothing while speaking to the media about her son Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

  • Jennifer O'Brien holds a piece of her son's clothing while speaking to the media about her son Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

  • Rod O'Brien wipes his tears while holding a butterfly made by his son as he speaks to the media about his son Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

  • Rod and Jennifer O'Brien show their emotions as they speak to the media about their son Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes during a press conference in Calgary on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

  • Nathan O'Brien is described as three feet tall, curly blonde hair, brown eyes, and was last seen wearing peach-coloured shorts and a blue-striped hoodie.

  • Kathryn Liknes is five-foot-three-inches tall, 120 pounds with reddish-brown hair and green eyes.

  • Alvin Liknes is six feet tall, 200 pounds with grey and blond hair and was wearing black shorts. Alvin has a distinctive walk.

  • Calgary police investigators check out the home where five-year-old Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes disappeared, in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, July 2, 2014.

  • Nathan O'Brien and his grandmother Kathy Liknes are shown in a Calgary Police Service handout photo. Calgary's police chief questions whether a reward would help the investigation into the disappearance of a five-year-old boy and his grandparents.

  • Police tape cordons off the home where five-year-old Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes disappeared, in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, July 2, 2014.