Ceremony in Rockville

"Tonight is a night to come together as a community," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who led last night's ceremony in Rockville. The event included remarks by one of the victim's brothers and prayers offered by religious leaders. (Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam / October 1, 2003)

ROCKVILLE - Friends and family members of the Washington-area sniper victims gathered last night for a candlelight vigil to honor the dead and to thank the community for remembering the shootings with letters, gifts and prayers.

The event brought together several dozen of the victims' relatives in a poignant reunion with the public officials and law enforcement agents who became the face of the investigation.

Among those attending were Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and former county police Chief Charles A. Moose. Duncan presided over the 75-minute ceremony, which began at dusk outside the county government complex.

"Tonight is a night to come together as a community," Duncan said. "It's also a night to heal the wounds of this tragic event."

Moose, who resigned this summer and has been promoting his book about the shootings, which began a year ago today, was not part of the official program. He sat in a back row holding a candle.

'It haunts me'

The few hundred in attendance included James Snow, 40, a close friend of Conrad Johnson, who was shot aboard the Ride-On bus he drove.

"It haunts me every day," Snow said in an interview. "I'm on my way to work, and sometimes I get teary-eyed. It hurts, man. I go to his [two] sons' football games, and I can't believe he's not there."

Montgomery County Council President Michael L. Subin said in his speech during the vigil: "We lost neighbors, we lost co-workers, we lost friends, we lost family. We had our innocence stolen away."

"In essence, we lived a three-week nightmare," he said. "No, we will never forget. No, we can't forget."

'Our love reaches out'

The ceremony included prayers by a half-dozen religious leaders of various faiths, as well as performances by a youth choir and folk singer Tom Paxton.

A representative of each of the 10 Washington-area victims laid a shovelful of dirt beside a small maple tree and a plaque on the grounds of the government complex.

Bob Meyers, the brother of victim Dean Meyers, read an essay recounting highlights of his brother's life. Among other topics, it touched on the victim's love of canoeing, his service in Vietnam and his affection for his Corvette.

Meyers, 53, was killed Oct. 9 as he unscrewed the lid from his car's gas tank at a service station off Interstate 66 in Manassas, Va. He was from Gaithersburg.

"Goodnight, Dean," his brother said. "Our love reaches out across the universe of time and space."

Earlier last night, the victims' relatives dined together privately at a Rockville restaurant.

'Justice will be served'

The vigil was held as lawyers prepare for the coming trials of the sniper suspects in Virginia.

"We have complete confidence in the American trial system, and believe that justice will be served," said a statement by Jeff Hopper, who was wounded in one of the shootings outside a steak restaurant in Ashland, Va.

"We are truly thankful for the outpouring of prayers and support that has carried us through this difficult last year," Hopper's statement said.