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Harford residents pray for peace in Baltimore

Between Edgewood and Fallston, people from around the county gathered for silent vigils and heartfelt worship. (Bryna Zumer and Dan Griffin, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

They were more than 15 miles from the city line, but on Tuesday night, dozens of Harford County residents came together to pray for peace in Baltimore, where civil unrest has led to violent protests and riots.

Between Edgewood and Fallston, people from around the county gathered for silent vigils and heartfelt worship. Filled with a spirit of purpose and optimism, they expressed hope that the violence, tension and frustration that has torn Baltimore apart in recent days would soon end.

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For residents like Bel Air's Sandy Moll, the riots hit home. She lived in the city from 1952 to 1981 before moving to Harford.

"It just hurts me to see my roots, my stomping ground, and have this happen senselessly when this is not the way to do it," Moll, a member of Fallston's Holy Communion Lutheran Church, said of the riots.

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She took part in a prayer gathering down the road at Fallston Presbyterian Church, where about 40 people prayed and sang around the large cross facing Route 152 as traffic raced by.

The event was led by the Rev. Kimberly Secrist Ashby of the Presbyterian church, the Rev. Merritt Schatz of Aberdeen's Grove Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Daris Bultena of Joppatowne's Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Jack Carlson of Highland Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Chasity Wiener of Holy Communion Church.

"I remember the 1968 riots. I saw [police] camped out in Patterson Park," Moll, who lived in Highlandtown as a teenager, recalled. "I was walking across Eastern Avenue and it was kind of scary seeing that."

While she had "sense of that now," with talk of protests at area high schools popping up on social media, Moll said this is a different time.

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"It's just ruining the businesses and ruining the employment of a lot of people, just because they are angry," she said of the rioters.

She hoped outpourings like the one in Fallston could bring some closure and peace.

"I believe in the power of prayer and I came out here for my church, Holy Communion, and I think with a group of people and the power of prayer, God hears us," she said. "What really got me was when I saw the clergy in the streets [marching in Baltimore]."

"It might be a turning point," Moll noted.

Farther east on Route 152, dozens of people sat in silent petition at Mountain Christian Church Tuesday night. Signs around the church urged: "Pray For Baltimore."

The church's Epicenter in Edgewood site, off Route 40, was also filled with worshippers who said they felt closely tied to the city and hoped to find a way to bring peace.

"I am here because I believe prayer changes everything," Melissa Flanagan, of Edgewood, who grew up in Baltimore, said at Epicenter.

Watching the violence on TV, she said, "I have seen some of the devastation, and it does hurt."

Terri Ricks, of Joppatowne, said it makes no difference if residents lived in the city or in Harford County.

"We are one community. An imaginary line on a map really doesn't make a difference," she said. "We need to be here. I am glad that we are finally paying attention to some serious issues."

Kathy Knight, of Edgewood, said she works in the city and felt it was important for Christians "to be united as brothers and sisters."

"If the Bloods and Crips can unite for this special time, we definitely can unite," she said with a laugh, referring to Baltimore gang members who came together to call for calm.

Edgewood's Angela Ward, a volunteer at The Epicenter who brought her 14-month old daughter, Angel, for the gathering, said Baltimore's young people are "in a community where justice is not being done as fast as they want it to be done."

"I was raised in Baltimore City, and I wanted to come out for prayer because the whole city needs prayer," she said, noting the young people "are destroying something that people have built up and died to get them where they are today, and they don't even realize that they are messing up their future, destroying Baltimore City."

"I wanted to come out today and pray for them, pray for direction, let us all pray for the family of Freddie [Gray], because they need prayer also, the police officers need prayer, and justice just be done," she said. "Stop tearing up Baltimore City and just come to God and allow him to do justice."

"I'm hoping justice could come out of this, and I'm hoping that everybody realizes that we are a city that needs forgiveness, all of us, because we all make mistakes, and we shouldn't judge so quickly," she said.

"These young people have been going through a lot over the years, and being unjustly arrested and things like that, so they have their issues. And then the police officers also, they're coming out, putting up their lives to save these people, including myself, every day and we don't even think about what they have to go through," she said.

Besides the prayer meeting at The Epicenter, one Edgewood 15-year-old, Kristen Benser, was passing around a petition she said she plans to send to President Barack Obama.

"All Lives Matter! Color doesn't matter! Black, White, Tan, Brown, Blue, or Purple! Everyone is Equal! R.I.P. Freddie Gray," the petition read, referring to the Baltimore man who died in police custody, the event that sparked the protests and violence.

"I have seen a lot of people bullied for their race and I feel it's very wrong," Kristen, who attends The Arrow Center for Education, explained.

About Baltimore, Kristen said the violence was "absurd" but the non-violent protest Tuesday was "great."

"I am hoping that people will think more about what is on the inside rather than on the outside," Kristen said about prejudice and violence toward different people.

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