It was supposed to be a candlelight prayer vigil to bring Jenise Wright home.
Instead, though, it became a chance for the community to come together and mourn the loss of the precocious and popular six-year-old East Bremerton girl. Hundreds of people filled the parking lot of the Crossroads Neighborhood Church Friday evening, just blocks from the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park where Jenise lived, was abducted and killed.
Mary Pelnar, 14, who lives with her mom just around the corner from Jenise’s house, spoke movingly about her friend, someone she considered a little sister. She said Jenise's family wanted to thank those attending the vigil and if there's anything they want to come out of this tragedy, it's for the community to become stronger together and for peace to come in Jenise's name.
"Jenise was the perfect little girl," Pelnar said. "I don't know who would have ever hurt her."
Pelnar said she remembered playing dolls with Jenise and always making jokes.
"I'll miss her coming over and asking to play and I'll miss the I-love-you's and how she asked me to come over," she said. "Her smile was so unique and special and her laugh was always making my day. I'll miss our adventures to the creek and how I would hold her close so I wouldn't lose her.
"I'll miss everything about her, but I'll never forget," Pelnar added. "I'll be reminded from the sunrise when I wake up to when I see the sun set, when I see the flowers by my house, but most of all I'll be reminded by her loving family."
Pelnar said she hopes that whoever killed Jenise will one day pay and that she wishes she could have given Jenise one long hug before she was taken.
Moana Tuitasi, 6, who was set to enter first grade with Jenise at Cottonwood Elementary School this year and rode the bus with her, brought a card and a teddy bear for her lost friend.
"She's having a really hard time dealing with it," said Moana's mom, Ruby.
Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer spoke briefly, promising that investigators will see Jenise's murder case through and find justice for her. He said many of the more than 300 law enforcement officers working the case are tired, but moving forward relentlessly. He added that he, and many of them, often appear "brave and macho, but inside we're hurting."
A pair of Jenise's favorite songs were played during the vigil and the assembled crowd joined together in singing "Amazing Grace." Candles were lit, balloons were released and many, many teardrops fell.
"There is nothing more senseless and nothing more agonizing to the heart of Father God than things like this," said Daniel Butcher, a regional director at Black Sheep Harley-Davidsons For Christ.
Jenise was first reported missing by her family shortly before 10 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3. Jenise’s body was found Thursday, Aug. 7, by K-9 units searching the area for the missing girl. Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said her body was found down a slope, in thick brush and mud, in a highly wooded area about 100 feet from a row of homes in the mobile home park. The county coroner ruled her death a homicide just a couple of hours before the start of tonight's vigil.
Anyone with information about Jenise's case is encouraged to call the FBI tipline at 1-800-CALL-FBI, or 911.