26 years of mourning: Candlelight vigil unites St. Louis-area families of homicide victims

Mayor of the City of St. Louis Lyda Krewson, President of the Board of Alderman, Lewis Reed, Community Organizer/ Activist Khatib A.F. Waheed and many other city leaders remembered the murdered victims and their families which occurred in 2017 -- they were recognized at a candlelight vigil held on January 1, 2018. A letter went out to over 200 families of people who were killed during one of the most violent years in the city of St. Louis. Letters were mailed out to St. Louis County family members as well. Several hundred family members filled the pew of Williams Temple Church of God at 1500 Union Boulevard. One family member attending the event said, "For someone to contact us and even think about us at this time means a whole lot. He's (our loved one) is not just a name on a list."

Sunday wasn’t about politics. It was about the families and their mourning, and that’s made clear before the first hymn. The messages were similar, from St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar to newly named St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden: The violence has to stop.

As of Sunday afternoon, St. Louis’ homicide tally had reached at least 205. The youngest victim in the city was 3 months old.

Belmar said St. Louis County police had investigated at least 56 homicides, including that of a man found dead late Sunday morning, a few hours before the vigil. The youngest victim in the county was 9, according to Belmar, who said these lives had been “stolen.”

In one of his first events as St. Louis’ police chief, Hayden promised the crowd that something would change so that there wouldn’t need to be so many mourning loved ones at next year’s vigil.

“We’re going to curb violence in the city,” he said. “That is the least I can do for you.”

Easing the pain

Among the speakers was grieving grandmother, mother, activist and former Missouri lawmaker Betty Thompson. “Neighbors used to love each other,” she said, while the crowd cheered. “What happened to that love? What happened to that love? Where did that love go?”

Thompson lost her grandson, Tyrell Thompson, in 2016 when he was fatally shot in a botched robbery. Her son, Tyrone Thompson, a former Pagedale police chief, was killed the same way six years prior.

“We’re here not because your child has died, but because they lived,” she told the audience.

There’s something about being around people who have experienced something similar. That’s why DoaJai Elliott came Sunday.

She and her family were mourning the loss of her brother, Jerome Baker, 28, who went missing in 2016. Police were able to confirm this summer that remains found in a vacant St. Louis home were those of Baker.

“This is a way to remember him,” Elliott said. “I like being around people who know what you’re feeling.”

Some family members in the crowd sobbed as the names of loved ones were read.

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