URBANA — Lisa Jones of Urbana held back tears as she hugged friends in the parking lot of an Urbana church.
"I didn't know this little boy, but I'm a mom, and his death has touched all our hearts," she said.
Jones was among more than 150 people who turned out Friday evening outside Stone Creek Church in Urbana for a vigil in honor of Mekhi Woods, a 3-year-old boy who was fatally shot Wednesday at his Urbana home.
People gathered around a table decorated with flowers and balloons in front of the church as Pastor Gary Grogan led them in prayers for the boy and his family.
"The vigil helps people to grieve and helps people think about what is important in life," Grogan said. "It helps us to think about safety, about caring and about protecting our children. A vigil is a great way to express compassion, care and love."
Grogan said the shooting was a tragedy.
"It is not a time for people to be passing judgment," he said. "It is a time for people to show support and prayers."
Shannon McGaughey of Champaign, who attends the church, said she organized the event as a way for the community to show its support.
"The family has been friends of mine since we were kids," she said. "After I learned what happened, I couldn't sleep and I wanted to do something to help them out.
"Mekhi was a special boy, and it is very tragic. Things are never going to be the same."
"We're just here to give support to the family and help them through this crisis," said Bertha Kent, a deaconess at the church.
Those people attending the vigil held hands as they prayed for the toddler and his family, and many of them made contributions to help the family with funeral expenses.
"It is great that people are giving money to help give this family a proper burial for this child," Grogan said.
Another deaconess, Lisa Pantaleo, said it was also important to pray for the 14-year-old uncle who was arrested following the incident.
"We ask God to comfort those involved and stand in there with what is going on with the 14-year-old," Pantaleo said.
Ryan O'Connell of Urbana said he came to the vigil to provide encouragement to Mekhi's family.
"We want to help them in their time of need. That is what a church is really all about," O'Connell said.
Jazmin Williams of Champaign said he hopes Mekhi's death will provide lessons for other families.
"We need to make sure kids have activities, and if you have any firearms in the house, make sure you lock them up," Williams said. "Better safe than sorry."
Grogan said he thought it was wonderful that so many people came to the vigil.
"We all live in this community, and it won't be any better than we make it," Grogan said.