A decade after the DC snipers cut 10 lives short, family members and advocates who helped them took pause Thursday evening to reflect on those terrifying three weeks in Montgomery and Prince George's counties in October 2002.
Dozens gathered for a candlelight vigil at Goshen United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, one day after the 10th anniversary of the deadliest stretch of the snipers’ reign of terror over the DC region.
“We love you, and we’ll never forget you,” said W. Gregory Wims, founder of the Victims Rights Foundation, which helped the families through their ordeal 10 years ago.
Andrew Walekar—who said his father, the third victim, was “looking down from the heavens right now”—recalled not the immediate pain of his family’s loss, but rather the outpouring of support that came from all directions.
“People would just come up to us and send us condolences and help—the church, coworkers, friends, family, strangers,” he told the crowd. “That’s how strong our community is.”
The Victims Rights Foundation was at the heart of much of that support. It had started in Gaithersburg four years earlier to help families face the aftermath of losing a loved one to acts of violence.
Montgomery County police called on the network of advocates, volunteers and clergy to help the families of the first two victims with grief counseling, funeral arrangements and other needs. As the death toll climbed, the Victims Rights Foundation readied a broader response.
The first donation—$1,000—came from a collection at Goshen United Methodist Church. Then came a check from Pepco. Soon, the donations had become a deluge.
“Within 60 days, we raised half a million dollars,” Wims said. “The whole community joined in.”
In the end, each family received more than $30,000.
As Thursday's testimonials wound down and dusk stretched over the vigil, Rev. Shawn Wilson, Goshen's pastor, called on attendees to turn the memories of loss into a legacy of inspiration.
“We are reminded of the responsibility … to continue the work of peace and justice in this world,” Wilson prayed just before the candles were lit.
“We acknowledge that this world is beset by violence and hurt and harm and danger. But we also acknowledge that you grant us the grace to be harbingers of peace and to be soldiers of justice and to work for the common good. So grant us this day your grace and your presence … so that we can go into the world as a light to those who are living in the shadow of darkness.”