One year after 14-year-old Christopher Jones was beaten to death by gang members while on his way to his Crofton home, family and friends will gather for a candlelight vigil to raise awareness on bullying and to remember his life.
"He was a perfect all-American boy with a lot of heart and soul," said Christopher's mother, Jennifer Adkins.
Christopher had been riding his bike when gang members in western Anne Arundel County struck him on the left side of his face and head last May.
Adkins said the past year without her son has been difficult. "I just sat at the tree [near where he died] and cried" recently, she said.
Although the pain is still fresh, Adkins said she decided to extend the family vigil to the community.
"I could step aside, but I can't," she said. "Bullying is an epidemic across this country. If I can get people to come to get the message to them that gangs and violence has to stop …"
The vigil starts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on Nantucket Drive, where Christopher pedaled about 30 feet before he fell and hit the pavement May 30, 2009.
After the vigil, a fundraiser for the Crofton Regional Community Center will be held at the Italian Market & Restaurant, which will donate 10 percent of proceeds toward the project.
Crofton "is a desert for recreation and character-building," said Art Huseonica, vice chairman of the Crofton Regional Community Center, who helped organize the vigil. "We want to keep the memory of Christopher Jones alive. We'd like to keep the momentum going."
Adkins said she wants to see the center built in hopes of providing a place for teens so they have a safe alternative to getting involved with gangs.
Christopher was not part of a gang, and Adkins has said that she complained to school officials that her son was being bullied at school. She transferred him from Arundel High School to South River High in late April 2009 to escape the bullying.
After Christopher's death, Anne Arundel County Police Chief James Teare complained that the school system did not — because, officials argued, they could not legally — inform his school liaison officer that Christopher had been bullied and that his parents had switched schools to help him escape.
Parents had complained that they had never heard of the youth gangs called the East Side Diamonds and their rivals, The New Threat, revealing a communication gap between schools and police.
Lt. J.D. Batten Jr., commander of the Anne Arundel County Police Department's school safety section, said the community has recognized that the county reflects "a national trend" of rising gang activity in suburban areas, but that the department has taken initiatives to improve communication with schools to spot possible gang involvement among students early.
"We're in constant daily contact," he said, adding that the department had helped craft anti-gang legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley this month, which is intended to remove barriers between law enforcement and school officials.
"In the earliest stages, when we are seeing [gang] markings, we send an officer to their home, we have a counselor come to talk to parents," Batten said. "We are trying to do everything we can."
But even with improved communication between the schools and police, Batten said the key is getting the parents involved.
"There are more parents than police officers and teachers, and getting them to stay involved — that's the challenge," he said.
Adkins agreed that parent involvement is important. "They've got to get involved with their kids," she said, adding that she's hoping parents and their children attend Sunday's vigil.
Vigil attendees will gather at Christopher's memorial cross on Nantucket Drive in Crofton/Gambrills and will be led by Anne Arundel County Council member Jamie Benoit.
County Executive John R. Leopold, state Sen. Edward R. Reilly, Del. James King, County Sheriff Ronald S. Bateman, state Sen. Janet Greenip, as well Adkins and Christopher's father, David Jones, will speak. Nashville recording artist Ashley Forrest will perform.
The vigil follows the first Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week, designated by Maryland first lady Katie O'Malley and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick in response to several local and national bullying incidents.
Two teenagers were found to have committed manslaughter in Christopher's death. They must be released from juvenile facilities by the time they turn 21.