America's Tragedy: Vigils send out solemn regards

Friday, Sept. 14, 7 p.m.

The moment in time brought people together -- wherever they were.

From the waterfront to the high school football stadium, citizens of Hood River joined in a national candlelight vigil at the same moment, in response to last week's terrorism attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

A vigil at Overlook Memorial Park attracted a solemn crowd that swelled as the half-hour gathering went on.

The sky turned from pale blue to pink-orange as the sun set and, as if to declare a sense of normalcy amid the week's chaos, a steady breeze blew throughout the ceremony rippling the parks' flags that flew at half staff.

Gary Young, chaplain of Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, spoke from a microphone as the crowd encircled him. He led the group in a litany as well as in "God Bless America."

Most who gathered had brought their own candles, and passed around extras to those without. When the breeze extinguished candles, as it did often throughout the gathering, they were quickly re-lit by both friends and strangers.

At the end Young told the crowd, "Do not be quick to leave this place." And people weren't. After Young asked that everyone turn to a stranger and introduce themselves, everyone on hand did so and most lingered as it grew dark to chat with both new acquaintances and old friends.

"I guess I just wanted to be with other people," said Susan Denzer DeBonis. "I felt it was important to be out there adding to the larger spirit of what was happening -- to be part of that larger collective."

Meanwhile, about 40 people attended an impromptu prayer and meditation vigil at the Event Site, organized in part by Jennifer FitzSimons of Hood River.

"It was solemn but hopeful," she said. "People were there to comfort each other."

FitzSimons went around downtown inviting people just hours ahead of time, and invited every windsurfer she saw at the Event Site itself; almost all of them came.

"A lot of people were glad to know it was happening. They knew they wanted to be somewhere at 7 p.m.," FitzSimons said.

Julianne Matzell guided the group in a prayer that included these words:

"Let us all take a moment of silence and pray for those who have been killed or injured and for their family and friends.

"Let us pray for our neighbors and our community -- that we can all practice peace and tolerance. It starts with each one of us."

Following a 10-minute meditation, people gathered in small groups, FitzSimons said.

"There was a lot of talk about hope for peaceful resolution," she said.

Players from the Hood River Valley and Dallas teams removed their helmets and lit candles as everyone in attendance observed a prolonged moment of silence. Everyone then joined in to sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

The Boy Scouts of America raised the American flag and lowered it to half staff before the singing of our national anthem -- a moving rendition that featured the first and third verses.

A Gorge Youth Football League team took a break from practice next to Henderson Stadium and, along with family members who lit candles, paid their respects in the pre-game observance.

After roughly a half hour of pregame ceremonies, the teams took the field and did their part to help the community move forward and put behind the tragic events of the past week.

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