Holding his ground near a makeshift memorial to his son, a silent and sad Henry Waye, Sr stood surrounded Thursday evening by more than 450 well-wishers holding candles aloft in tribute to the boy who never got a chance to grow up.
He brushed away tears as friends came up to hug him and offer few words of solace.
“I’m going to miss skating with him,” said Michael Keith, a Bristol Central High School freshman who came to the informal vigil to “pay my respects” to his friend, Henry Waye, Jr.
As it grew darker, the crowd swelled across George Street, forcing police to close the road where a hit-and-run driver struck and killed the 14-year-old a week earlier.
They gathered in little knots, friends sticking by each other, holding their candles and holding back their tears. Dozens wore homemade shirts honoring Henry.
“Henry was a good person. He was really nice,” said Jesslyn DesJardins, an eighth grader at Memorial Boulevard School. Henry used to give her his hot French fries at lunch.
Nicole Worrell and Jennelly Ramos, also eighth graders at the Boulevard School, said they hung out with Henry at the new skatepark at Rockwell Park and elsewhere. They said he was funny and kind.
“He deserves the respect that he would have given any of us if we had died,” said Jimmy Hay, a freshman at Central who said he ran most of the way to the vigil from his Peck Lane home.
Henry’s Sunday school teacher at Grace Lutheran Church in Plainville, Sonia Nurczyk of Bristol, called his death a tragedy.
“Words alone can’t explain the grief” so many are feeling, she said.
“It’s overwhelming,” Nurczyk said. “To know Henry was a pleasure. He was one of those kids who just came out and said ‘what can I do?’” whenever something was needed, he said.
Nurczyk said the loss is especially hard for Henry’s father.
“I feel so bad for the father all the tragedy he’s been through,” said Shae Ritter of Bristol, whose daughter knew Henry from Memorial Boulevard School,.
“I just hope there will be some justice for Henry,” Ritter said, after handing out a dozen candles to youngsters who didn’t plan ahead.
More than a few of the crowd had harsh words for the pickup driver who struck Henry and didn’t stop to help the boy. Robert Park, the George Street resident who was behind the wheel was apparently drunk when police caught up with him afterward. He has yet to be charged.
But it wasn’t a night for justice. It was a moment for those who knew Henry to gather together, to sing, to pray and to hold candles against the darkness.
Nurczyk said she hopes that out of such a great a loss, something good might come, some sense in the community that everyone needs to recognize that in one awful instant, they can devastate so many lives.
A band called Tighten Up played a song they wrote for the occasion when the crowd grew silent: “Tears fall from our eyes/ Our only question is God, why?”
They followed it up with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” that saw many singing along with the band, and then the Lord’s Prayer.
Afterward, the crowd walked over to the Wayes’ home on nearby Hull Street, where they lined the sidewalk with candles and piled flowers.
After walking home with friends and his sixth grade daughter, LeeAnn, Waye stopped beside a small group near the walkway to his house.
“I want to thank you all for your support during this tragic loss,” Waye said. “It wasn’t I who just lost. It was all of you.”
“God bless you, guys,” Waye said.
Then he walked inside as the candles flickered in the chilly breeze.
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