Flames flickered against the wind in memory of a troubled teenager outside the Power House Family Worship Center in Gainesville Monday evening.
About 40 people gathered, grasping burning white candles, listening to prayer and remembering Robert Dentmond, who was killed March 20 during a standoff with police.
They sang “This Little Light of Mine.”
— Briana Erickson (@journo_bre) March 28, 2016
Jennifer Appel, Dentmond’s stepmother, stood among the group, keeping his older sister, four younger brothers and cousin close.
Dentmond was one of seven kids. He was the oldest boy.
His younger brother, Kamarion Appel, 10, said he remembers playing video games and cards with Dentmond.
Sixteen-year-old Montrae McCray said the vigil was a great way to honor his friend. The two met playing basketball last year. They just sorta connected.
“He was a nice, kind guy,” McCray said.
Bishop Leo Robinson prayed for strength and speedy healing, hoping memories of the son, the friend, the student will live on inside those who knew him.
“We are here today to support the family, the community; to keep the unity,” he said. “To be the person, or be the church or be the family that people will look at and say, ‘someone still cares.'”
At the end of his message, Robinson asked Appel if she would like to say a few words. She shook her head.
With an “amen” the flames went out.
As the crowd dispersed, Appel hung around, surrounded by her children and the support of fellow church members.
“He was a good kid,” she said. The support of the community means a lot as she takes things “one day at a time.”
— Alexa Lightle (@AlexaLightle) March 28, 2016
Sherry Maguire’s Monday started in tears and ended with her lighting a candle for Dentmond, a boy she’d never met.
She said she felt compelled to go.
Because, at 9:30 a.m., her eighth-grade reading class at Kanapaha Middle School was distraught and angry over Dentmond’s death.
They told her, in pieces, his story. Some played basketball with him. Others knew one of his brothers, who she said also attends Kanapaha.
Within minutes, she and her class were in tears.
“In a weird way, it’s like an onion,” she said. “When you pull back the layers, it just makes you cry harder and harder. I really wanted to make a commitment to them that I would support their community in any way that I could, because it’s important.”
Maguire’s class, which she said consists mostly of black students, expressed concerns about Dentmond and racial profiling. They wanted to know why weapons were brought to a suicide call. They wanted to learn about protocol.
Maguire said she believes officers played by the book when they shot Dentmond, but she also thinks they should address students when these incidents happen.
“Something needs to change about the system — they’re growing up pissed at law enforcement, and our school resource officer is in a position where he can’t talk about the case,” she said.
But many feel the need to move forward.
The church wants to build a center for young people this year, but needs funding. It would provide tutoring services, a gym and career-building skills to help keep students off the streets.
“Color is not important to us right now,” Robinson said. “Everyone is somebody, and we’re reaching out with everything in the inside of us.”
Krystalle Pinilla contributed to this story.