By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald
Mondra Randall, 13, stood among a crowd of more than 100 silent men, women and children, holding a candle and bowing his head, eyes closed, under the pavilion at the Killeen Community Center on Saturday.
The Union Grove Middle School student is only a few years younger than 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch captain at the gated community outside Orlando.
"I couldn't believe what happened," said Randall, surrounded by posters of Martin taped up around the pavilion. "I wanted to know why."
And the teenager is not alone. The case has inflamed racial tensions and sparked protests across the country. On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Sanford, demanding again that an arrest be made.
In Killeen, residents gathered to for a solemn prayer vigil, held in Martin's name. Organized by the Killeen branch of the NAACP, Hoodies Up featured prayers led by local church leaders and others.
TaNeika Driver, Killeen NAACP president, said the event was about uniting the community during a trying time.
"We want everyone to come together as a community, regardless of race, color or religion," she said.
Throughout the crowd, attendees spoke of the need to not rush to judgment, and to remember the young victim.
Central Texas College students Daisy Demerson and Kim King, both Killeen residents, took front row seats under the pavilion.
Demerson said the vigil was about uniting as one for the cause of justice.
"We don't know all the facts yet," said King of the controversy surrounding the investigation into Martin's death. But no one should shoot an unarmed person, no matter what, she added.
"Sad, sad, sad," was how Euphrin Hawes, a retired Fort Hood soldier, said he felt when he learned of the shooting.
"I didn't think of the race issue. Not even now," he said. "It's about the lack of respect for the human race. It's more about the loss of a life."
There are many things to look at before making a judgment about the case, he said.
During his speech, Mayor Timothy Hancock urged prayers for the Martin family, and for the family of shooter Zimmerman.
"Many of us have family members (whose actions) affect us," he said.
But the mayor said he had one major question.
"Why did this young man (Zimmerman) have a weapon in his hand in the first place?" he asked.
Hancock said it shouldn't be necessary for a neighborhood watch captain to carry a loaded gun, no matter what part of the country they are in.
Hancock also questioned the lack of communication about the investigation.
"(I) wonder why, the (police) department couldn't tell ... this nation something other than what they have said - which is absolutely nothing," said Hancock, after which the crowd erupted in applause.
Several area religious leaders took turns leading the group in prayers for the family, the nation, and the judicial system, including Rev. Gettes Marshall from Cornerstone Baptist Church, Dr. George Fennell from Comanche Chapel at Fort Hood, and Pastor David Reynolds.
Pastor Harold Vanarsdale of Christ Cathedral in Harker Heights said he was tapped to pray for the police.
"That's tough," he said. Vanarsdale said he was in Los Angeles during the Watts riots in 1965, when police officers beat his mother. Some may wonder how he can pray for the police now, he said.
"They serve and protect us. They need our prayers," he said. "Many have given their lives for others. I can't help but pray for them."
As the light dulled in the horizon, the crowd lit candles in Martin's memory. Reynolds said the candles were lit as a symbol of Martin's lost life.
"Long after the hoodies are taken off, a family is still in mourning," he said.
Contact Rebecca Rose at email@example.com.