Word had gone out of a vigil on Stacy Boulevard for the little girl named Caleigh who had vanished by the sea. And on a chilly Friday evening, the crowd had gathered, speaking more with their silence than they ever could with words.
For Caleigh Harrison's family, last Friday night's vigil was also a first night to generate awareness of what may, in the future, become Caleigh's legacy; a foundation or advocacy program of some sort, whose mission would be child safety.
Whether that safety be on the beach, in the water, or in vigilant awareness of the presence of child predators among us remains to be seen.
More than three weeks since the 2-year-old Caleigh's disappearance, her fate remains in the hearts of many across the Gloucester community, as evidenced by Friday's vigil.
The family has, in the many days of fruitless searching for the little girl — without any sign of what happened to her — come to "hope against hope" that the absence of a body might mean that Caleigh had not been lost to the sea, but been abducted by some unknown person.
And the crowds that flocked by the hundreds to Friday night's vigil showed their solidarity by wearing pink ribbons and T-shirts and hearts that say, "Hold Hands for Caleigh."
They came bearing babies — on their backs, in their arms, in their strollers, in carriages.
There were young parents — dozens of them, holding their children's hands, holding their children close to their sides, and standing solemnly in the crowd.
They came, too, in wheelchairs, pushing walkers, leaning on canes; the older ones, grandparents, great grandparents and aunts and uncles, surrounded by generations of grandchildren, nieces, nephews. They came in alone and groups. And there were teenagers — on bicycles, roller blades, in running shoes, tracks suits, flipflops, with fresh spring tans, straight from the high school, joining the crowd gathering at the foot of Gloucester's famed "Man at the Wheel" statue, gazing out to sea.
Down in the waters of the tossing outer harbor, they also came in fishing boats — dozens of them, bobbing close to the shore where the big crowd gathered. There were smaller boats, too, closer in to the shore; dories and kayaks and three paddler boats — no bigger than surf boards— where three young men stood quietly in the chill evening wind. And out beyond the fishing boats, its white sails catching the last of the late day sun, the schooner Thomas E. Lannon, stood at anchor, joining the gathering, too.
The vigil had come together quickly; within days, it had gone from no more than a notion to an event that had grown to include ranks of city and state officials, clergy from the city's churches and media from TV stations with cameras scanning the boats and the faces in the crowds.
At the center of it all, up under the big bouquets of pink balloons floating above the speaker's podium, was Caleigh's family.
Her mother, Allison Hammond, spoke briefly and quietly of her lost daughter.
Caleigh's father, Anthony Harrison, speaking in present tense, spoke of the things his daughter loves best: the color purple, her 4-year-old sister Lizzie, her cousins, string cheese, dancing lessons, running around naked. That drew a laugh from the crowd, many perhaps seeing their own child or themselves as children, running naked in the summer sun.
Mayor Caroline Kirk, sounding less like a mayor than the mother she is, spoke of Caleigh as a daughter, too.
"Caleigh is a daughter of the city," Kirk said. "All of us are daughters and sons of Gloucester, and Gloucester cares when something happens to one of us."
Echoing the mayor's words, state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante said simply, "one of our own is missing."
She told the crowd of how it was on that first day, when the word went out of Caleigh's disappearance. How the searchers needed food to keep the searching going, how she and Gloucester City Councilor Sefatia Romeo Theken had called the city's restaurants, and every restaurant they called had opened their kitchens and kept the food coming.
"I come from a fishing family," she said, "I come from the fishing community, we know what it is to lose loved ones."
The question of whether Caleigh was lost to the sea or abducted was not addressed by any of the speakers, but was spoken of later, when the vigil had ended and the crowds were dispersing, and chatting, in hushed tones, among themselves.
The last speaker of the evening, Pastor Brian Miller of Beverly's Dane Street Church, seemed to hint at abduction when he spoke of "Hope against Hope."
Father John Kiley of Gloucester's Holy Family Parish and St. Ann Church spoke of St. Anthony, patron saint of the lost, stolen and missing — a wonder worker, a performer of miracles.
Everyone knows it would take a miracle to bring Caleigh home.
Everyone should know that what happened to Caleigh's family could happen to anyone, her father noted.
One moment you're holding your child's hand, in a crowd, a mall, a street, the beach. The next moment, you're distracted for a moment. By your cell phone ringing, your keys dropping, or, as in the case of Caleigh's mother, a ball needing fetching up a beach.
"This can happen to anyone," Harrison said. "And we would never wish it on any of you.
"A piece of our lives is missing now," he said. "But she should know that we will never, never give up looking for her. I love you, Caleigh."
Then he asked for everyone to hold hands — and as they did, local singer Chelsea Berry took the podium and sang Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
"It's not a cry you can hear at night," she sang, "It's not somebody who has seen the light. It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah."
They were hard words for the crowd to hear, and as they heard them, many of them stifled sobs.
As the song moved on — and Berry sang the words, "there's a blaze of light in every word" — her voice rose and went out into the night, out to the crowd, holding hands and lighting candles, and out across the water to the brightly lit boats.
Out on those boats, big lit balloons — dozens of them — rose into the sky, floating up above the harbor, and over the city that has lost a little daughter, Caleigh Harrison.
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3457, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.