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Friends remember Patrick Ward at Friday's vigil

Candles filled the field – and the sky – on the corner of Todd Road and Brierhill Drive in Bel Air Friday night

Friends, family and people touched by the recent tragic murder of Patrick Xavier Ward gathered on the field to pay their respects and celebrate a life that was taken too soon.

Between 50 and 60 men, women and children came together, some walking from nearby neighborhoods, to mourn and share memories of Mr. Ward. Several close friends and relatives wore white T-shirts with Mr. Ward's face and the words "I will always love you," including best friend Justin Rogers, who lived in the same Bel Air neighborhood as Mr. Ward.

"We went to each other's houses almost every day. [And] if we weren't together, we were on the phone," Rogers remembered. Rogers described his friend as a mentor and said "he taught a lot of us here to be the men we are today."

Baltimore County resident Luke Ferguson, who grew up down the street from Mr. Ward and his family, was still reeling from the loss of his good friend.

"It's been a tough week," Ferguson said. "I couldn't feel for a couple days. It's still surreal to me."

With the sadness palpable among those gathered on the field, Ferguson, whose voice broke a bit, said, "I've been talking about it so much for the last [several] days that I don't want to shed any more tears."

This seemed to be the consensus of most people present. Holding hands and consoling each other, friends wanted to focus on the celebration of Mr. Ward's life and not the terrible way it ended.

Part of that celebration was lining the fence on the field with large collages of favorite photos and poster-size pictures of Mr. Ward, which people were invited to write memories and condolences on. Flowers, star-shaped balloons and candles rested among the numerous collages. People would walk along the fence, pointing at different photos and sharing stories. Others would stand in silence and hug each other.

Maura Fonzi, who lives off East MacPhail Road in Bel Air, didn't know Mr. Ward but wanted to pay her respects after learning about his death.

"I've lived in Bel Air all my life and never heard of such a violent crime taking place so close to our house," Fonzi said. "I couldn't believe something like that would happen in Bel Air." She added that it feels like there is a 'big blemish" on the town's reputation. "It's probably forever changed," she said. "You always think this kind of thing happens somewhere else."

Eventually, candles were passed out to those in attendance and were lit as the sun set. A van that had driven onto the field played music, including "Angel" and "I Will Remember You" by Sarah McLachlan and "Blessed to be a Witness" byBen Harper.

When the sun had completely set and no more people seemed to be arriving, good friend Kim Brandon thanked "everyone for coming out." She reiterated that they didn't want to mourn any longer and wanted to "celebrate the life of Pat." Rogers added that Mr. Ward's close friends and family appreciated everyone who had come out "to show their love and support for this man."

Slowly, people moved to the center of the field to release candles inside paper balloons into the night sky. Several people lit small candles inside the balloons, held them up and soon more than 20 balloons lifted off, drifting off into the distance until it was hard to decipher which was a lit balloon and which was a bright star. The final balloon was lit and sent off by Mr. Ward's parents, brother and sister, who smiled as they let it go.

Once the last candle was sent up, a prayer was said for Mr. Ward, followed by a moment of silence. After the solemn minute, people clapped and cheered. A few in the crowd shouted, "Yay, Pat!" for their friend they dearly miss but were able to celebrate and remember fondly that night.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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