Charles Willis has led dozens of vigils for victims of gun violence, but this was the first one he had trouble starting.
The director of United Communities Against Crime backed away from the microphone and took some minutes to compose himself Sunday evening at Mosby Court, where he grew up.
Virginia House of Delegates member Delores McQuinn stepped in, her voice wavering.
“Is Charles getting himself together?” McQuinn said. “I guess what he wants to say is ‘thank you.’ Thanks to every person who’s come here today to support these families today.”
Around 300 people were assembled on Accommodation Street to remember Mikkaisha Smoot, 16, and Taliek Brown, 15, who were killed early Wednesday morning. They died from bullet wounds to their heads after being taken off life support within a few days.
“This is a not a reason we should be getting together,” Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden said at the vigil. “Let’s find a different way to work out our differences.”
Richmond police have no suspects and are urging people to come forward if they know something. Smoot lived in neighboring Whitcomb Court and Brown in the North Side.
“Violence is a loss of words,” said Major Sydney Collier of the Richmond Police Department. “When people can’t express themselves, they revert to violence. We have to place a better value on life.”
A pastor led the crowd in prayer, and a choir sang. Dozens of balloons swayed in the breeze, and, in the distance, an ice cream truck chimed through the neighborhood.
Smoot’s mother, Danielle Bugg, remembered her daughter as energetic, fun-loving and always positive.
“Anybody that knew my daughter, they loved her,” Bugg said. “She liked to sing and dance. Lordy, that child sang and danced all day, even in her sleep.”
She said she was grateful for the outpouring of support.