One by one they walked into the auditorium. Some were somber. Others were chatty. The overwhelming majority were women and children. Nearly all were black.
Boxes of tissues were scattered around the room during this April 9 vigil to honor those residents of St. Louis city and county who were murdered in the last year.
Midway through the vigil, organizers played a PowerPoint presentation that spelled out the names of each victim, one by one, slide by slide.
Bryan Reed Jr. Jimmy Thomas Keneka Elliott
For ten minutes the projector cycled through each name, as the crowd members wept, softly at first, then louder, a cacophony of sobs.
Julius Elliot Marcus Treadway Darlene Noble
The choruses of "Amazing Grace" and "O-o-h Child" whispered in the background. Every so often a small burst of wailing erupted from a corner of the room as a loved one's name flashed on the screen.
Wallace Ellis Jerry Colle Eunice Hampton
Crowd members wore T-shirts honoring the lives of the fallen -- RIP beloved husband; Gone but not forgotten; We will never forget you. Mothers clutched their babies to their chests, rocking them back and forth as they mourned. Toddlers too young to understand waddled around, confused. A baby sucking on a pacifier reached up to his mother's face to feel a teardrop.
Scott Crawford Lamar Thomas Lavell Collins
Steely homicide detectives dressed in black suits tried to keep it together in the back of the room. One woman with sunglasses continually flailed her open palms toward her knees, stopping just before contact...as if her hands were the only things she could control. Ministers weaved through the crowd, offering Kleenex and embraces to the mothers, the grandmothers, the sisters, the girlfriends. "Why they do that?" howled a woman near the back. "Why they do that? ... Why they do that? .... Why they do that?"
Fernando Taylor Justin Young Damon Walker
"The clock of life is wound but once," said Pastor Willie James in a sermon following the slide show, "and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop at the late or early hour." James continued: "We are here today not because someone died, but because someone has lived."
Today marks the beginning of National Crime Victims Rights Week. Much has been said about gang violence in our city, which has been dubbed the most dangerous place in the country. We see the victims on the news and feel bad for them. Rarely do we stop to think about the family members they leave behind.
The event last Saturday, held at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, was sponsored by the Crime Victim Advocacy Center of St. Louis and the Homicide, Ministers and Community Alliance.
After the vigil, the mourners gathered their emotions, introduced themselves to others and offered each other support. Some even laughed. They collected memorial candles spread out in the back of the room and exchanged a few more hugs. Then they walked out into the parking lot to face another day.