Other articles by the same author
- In Season: October 1, 2016 updated
On July 7, Grand Rapids was shaken to the core with the murder of seven innocent people. While it may seem impossible to move forward after Rodrick Dantzler brought the city to a standstill, most members of the community are hopeful. Ah-Nab-Awen Park was a place of refuge as hundreds showed up to pay their respect to the victims and families of the victims. A vigil for the victims on July 8 was a moment to focus on the lives taken and coming together as a community. For Molly Heaven-Hoyle, it was a chance “to be reminded that people are still good."
The vigil was set for 8:30-10 p.m., and by 7:30 p.m., handfuls of people were already at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, some with blankets and others with lawn chairs. While some groups of people had candles lit, others waited for the official vigil to begin. There were elderly with canes and walkers, children in strollers, large families and individuals all in the park to show support. Mixed emotions were in the air as some kids were laughing and innocently playing by the river while others sat with tear-stained faces, seemingly numb to their surroundings. The vigil felt more peaceful once it began, everyone inching closer to the cement walkway used as the focal point. Children stopped running and laughing, as even their little hearts knew it was time to be solemn and serious.
The vigil began with Chris Surfus, an active member and president of TEAM (Tolerance, Equality, and Awareness Movement), who read aloud the names of the victims, followed by a moment of silence. While many brought their own candles, TEAM organized the event with Shannon and Rick Feuntz and supplied over 250 tealights that were spread across the cement stage. Later in the vigil, attendees were invited to come up and light a candle in memory of the seven victims. Surfus helped plan the vigil and had a personal connection to the service. "The candlelight vigil impacted me personally because it was a way to give back to the community and to do something special for the families of the victims and the family of the murderer ."
The looming question seems to be “how will Grand Rapids recover from such a tragedy?” Many members of the community had their answers to this question.
Christine Linson said, “We need to come together as a community, and try to be more observant of what’s going on around us." Linson, who has family that suffer from bi-polar disorder, also said it “makes you want to be more aware.”
Kirk Crump, who said he was “overwhelmed” by what happened, could not believe it was happening in this city. “Here in Grand Rapids, it’s something you don’t see.” As far as Crump’s plan for recovery, he said, “the police can only do so much. It starts at home. They took discipline from the home, which created a lot of this.”
Brenda Stewart, sitting on the edge of the vigil with her grandkids, felt sad for the victims, but also worried for people who may be in the same position as Dantzler. “What kind of loneliness and despair was he feeling?” Stewart attended the vigil “to show I care and I’m concerned about my community.” Her concern for the community extends past the vigil, and her solution to create a better sense of security in the city is laws that are in place and enforced. "Security needs to step up. We need more curfews [and] control the gun situation. But the laws have to be enforced."
Unsure of what comes next, many Grand Rapids natives still feel safe within the community. Karen Evans stated that on the night of the murders, while returning home from work, she "looked around to see if I could see anyone. It made me feel uneasy" but also adding "I basically feel safe." The sadness felt the day of the murders lived on through the vigil and will probably stick with the community for a long time to come. The vigil was not meant for closure but rather a chance for the close-knit community to rise from the ashes yet again. No one is asking for the sadness and anger to stop, people just want to be involved in the city-wide grieving process and, as Evans puts it, "to be more together on things."
Perhaps that is all the city can do in a moment like this, just be together and continue to fight for a more peaceful tomorrow. The message from Chris Sufrus is clear, strongly taking the stance of perseverence in a time of such turmoil.
"Today, we sent a message to the rest of the world that we may be down, but we are not out. That is the great thing about Grand Rapids. We are an energized, diverse community that holds values of justice, fairness, compassion, love, tolerance and equality. Today we sent that message to the world.”
I am a graduate of Grand Valley State University, holding a degree in English Language and Literature with a minor in History. I love writing stories that share the special or creative moments of our city. I am a mentor to other reporters as well. I am inspired by author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. for his words, sarcasm, perspective and legacy.