WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Families and friends came together for the 25th annual Candlelight Memorial, to honor the victims of violent crimes across the Cape Fear region. Because of the pandemic, the event looked different than in years past.
Dozens of families came out to the top of the Hanover Parking Lot at Cape Fear Community College for a drive-in candlelight memorial.
“People care,” Edwin Camacho, the friend of a victim, said. “It’s not just us. The whole community cares.”
Every year, District Attorneys Jon David and Ben David partner to hold the memorial. Jon David represents Brunswick, Columbus and Bladen counties, and Ben David represents New Hanover and Pender counties.
“There really is power in coming together to honor, to celebrate and to remember loss,” Jon David said. “We though it was so important to have an event people could come to live. While the format is very different this year, the message remains the same. We stand for victims’ families. we stand against violence.”
David says the event is typically held at a church or event center. With the help of CFCC and The Wilson Center, they were able to hold a rooftop drive-in memorial, with a virtual presentation.
During the virtual memorial, families heard from Jon David, Ben David and N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, along several other leaders in the community.
“It’s very special to see her be honored as one of them, but it’s also special to see everyone celebrate the lives of their loved ones,” Teonna Smith, the friend of a victim said.
For Camacho and Smith, that loved on is their friend Keonna Graham. Graham, from Leland, was murdered in July.
“She was a loving person,” Smith said. “Always had a smile on her face. Never had anything bad to say. Always willing to cheer you up.”
When families and friends pulled up to the top of the parking deck they were greeted with a white rose and candle. This year, cars were decked out with photos and messages for the love one.
“One of the by products of this COVID-19 pandemic has been social isolation,” David said. “Particularly for those who are experiencing the loss of a loved one, now more than ever you need a community of sufferers who understand what it means to get that knock on the door at 3 in the morning, or to get that phone call no parent wants to hear.”
Although the event was virtual and distanced, it gave people a way to feel closer to their loved ones.
“It’s really relieving to know they’re doing this,” Camacho said.
Friends say this event is a way to keep their loved ones’ legacy alive.
“Keonna always wanted us to work together,” Smith said. “Come together. And be happy. She always wanted us to be happy.”
The memorial was also streamed live for families and friends to watch from home.