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East St. Louis Holds Candlelight Vigil For Newtown Victims

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EAST ST. LOUIS, IL (KTVI) - Many local communities have been trying to show the Newtown community a sign of support. In East St. Louis, about 100 people filled City Hall Monday night to comfort each other and pray about the tragedy with a candlelight vigil.

At the vigil, the names of all 26 victims were read over and over, until each person had lit a candle.

East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks recalls, "The first person I heard the news from was my wife, Joanne. And I could tell she had been crying when she called me, because we have a nine year old.”

Many who spoke found it tough to put the tragedy into words. As one speaker eloquently put it: if you lose your husband or wife, you’re a widow or widower. If you lose your parents, you're an orphan. But no words can describe a parent who loses a child.

It was an emotional moment for Body of Christ Worship Center Sr. Pastor Kelvin McNeil, whose own son was shot to death not long ago.

He says, "You know, the parents feel almost responsible because you’re there to guard and protect them, and when you can’t, there are no words.”

Community activist and former teacher Peggy Lewis LeCompte knew she had to take action: "It hit me just every place things could hit you: the pit of your stomach, the inside of your heart, the top of your head, your eyes with tears running out of them, it was unbelievable.”

She and event co-chair Reginald Riddle quickly organized the vigil, meant to bring people together to mourn the loss of these young children, but also to reflect on the violence plaguing East St. Louis.

McNeil explains, "Being a part of this city, we experience this all the time, and so we can’t keep sitting back and hoping things get better.”

Instead, pastors and other community leaders offered solutions; among them, a call for parents to do a better job raising children.

McNeil says, “It starts at home, we can’t expect the police department to do it all. We can’t expect the school district to do it all.”

Through song and prayer, a simple request to God stood out: for the parents of all these children lost to one day be able to smile again.