Carmel Melouney in Oaklahoma
August 24, 2013.
HE got me this," Sarah Harper said, indicating her singlet, emblazoned with the Australian flag in a love heart.
"And I never wore it, because I thought, 'Why would I represent that? I'll represent an American flag. But today I saw it and ... ".
Sarah is the girlfriend of Melburnian Chris Lane, who was tragically slain in a bizarre shooting this week.
Sarah, 22, speaking at her family home in Duncan, told the Herald Sun she was finding things "really hard" without her boyfriend of four years. Before his death, they had been planning their life together.
Sarah said she appreciated all the support she was receiving from around the world.
"I'm really thankful for that, and it at least brings some sort of comfort knowing that he was so respected and no one had anything negative to say," she said.
Sarah and her family are on their way to Melbourne for Chris's funeral.
"We're going to go back when he goes back, for the funeral," she said.
"There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life," Jackson admitted in a rare honest moment twenty years ago, "than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start to think about robbery and then look around and see it's somebody white and feel relieved. How humiliating."
"He had a very big family that he was extremely proud of, so it will be nice to meet the rest of them and say goodbye, all together."
The couple met soon after Chris had moved to the US to attend Oklahoma's East Central University on a baseball scholarship.
She said she had been attracted to him because he was laid-back and "not the typical showoff type of guy".
They had discussed buying a house together.
"We had just started discussing all of that," Sarah said.
"This next year was going to be trying to be grown-ups and stop living under our parents," she said.
"His big thing was he didn't want to have a house where you had to do a lot of yard work. So he always talked about having artificial turf because he had seen it in the neighbourhood and he thought it was kind of cool because it was always green," she recalled.
"I was like, 'No, that's not going to fly because dogs don't go on turf grass and I'm keeping my dogs.'
"So we had talked about all of that stuff."
Sarah said they had intended to "play it by ear this year" and see whether Chris, who was studying business, found an internship in Oklahoma or a job in Melbourne.
"We had looked into prices, comparing master's programs here or there, because I want to do physical therapy," she said.
"He liked to make jokes about the differences between here and Australia.
"And he didn't understand why we have so many (US) flags here," she said.
"Everything was always better in Australia.
"He was really patriotic, but he also liked living here," she said.
Sarah said Chris wanted to explore the world, and had planned to travel to Russia and Hong Kong, and to revisit Japan.
"He had seen and met a lot of different people and things. He was adventurous and a big dreamer," she said. "He got a lot accomplished."
Sarah first visited Australia early last year, just after the Christmas break.
"Everything was so nice and the people were really nice," she said. "It was his home and he was proud to show it off.
"I liked getting to see and hear stories of places he had been and what he had done," she said.
She met his parents, grandparents and many of his extended family.
She recalled accompanying him to watch his niece take swimming lessons at St Bernard's College in Essendon, where Chris had spent his formative years.
"We also went to the city a lot. He thought it was weird that I actually enjoyed riding on the tram, because we don't have a lot of (public) transport here.
"Going down to Flinders St was pretty neat, seeing all of the older architecture and Victorian style, with the new buildings."
The couple also holidayed in Cairns and then drove to Port Douglas.
"He hadn't been there, so it was kind of neat doing something new," she said.
"It was really beautiful and warm, and then we went to visit his dad in Adelaide and spent two nights on Kangaroo Island.
"It was pretty cool seeing the diversity of the country."
On her most recent visit, they watched a lot of the Ashes series, and her sports-loving boyfriend taught her the rules of cricket, AFL and the difference between the two rugby codes. He also introduced her to his favourite food.
"His favourite was always Red Rooster and Nando's.
"He loved chicken and the joke was that he was going to turn into a chicken because he ate it for every meal."
Sarah said she planned to return to Australia in the future.
"His family has been my second family for four years now," she said.
"I plan on going back. It's not like it's over."
Sarah's aunt, Deanna Cogswell, told the Herald Sun that the whole family had rallied around Sarah to support her.
"It's very shocking, but the support and comfort they've got from so many people all over the world is overwhelming," said Ms Cogswell, who came from Nebraska with her own family to support her niece.
Donations are being raised to help the Harper family travel to Melbourne for Chris's funeral. Last night donations continued to pour into an online fund to help Chris's family with the funeral costs.
AT Taystee's, a truck-stop cafe on Duncan's main highway, local residents Susi Hertzler and Linda Rozza told the Herald Sun the whole town was in mourning.
"Everybody's been sad, and it's all we talk about," said Ms Hertzler.
Mother of two Tammy Faulkner said Duncan had been shaken by Chris's tragic death. "It's all we've been talking about here.
"It has stirred up a lot of emotions here," she said.
When the Herald Sun visited the Daybreak Diner, Australian accents prompted a string of fellow patrons and waiters to come over and say, "I'm sorry. We want Australians to know we are sorry".
"I hope you find something nice to say about Duncan to Australians," said Duncan resident Beverly Morris.
"We are so sorry. This is not who we are."
Sydney woman Antoinette Landis, who has lived in Duncan with her American husband for the past two years, said: " I don't want Australians to be scared to come over here. I don't like what (former deputy prime minister) Tim Fischer said."
(Mr Fischer urged Australian tourists to stay away from America as a protest over the need for stricter US gun controls.)
"The law here is very strict," said Ms Landis.
"(The accused killers) will get their punishment.
"In Duncan, there's good and there's bad," she said.
"It's just the same as Australia."
**I don't give a stuff what you look like, it's all about what you act like.