Danville — Heartbreak and hope filled the candlelit courtyard of the Boyle County Courthouse on Sunday as several hundred people celebrated the lives of three people who were shot to death Friday in a pawn shop.
Pastor Jason Kilby, wearing a bright red shirt that read "Live Love Now," urged the crowd to use the deaths as a springboard to making God a priority in the life of the community. Kilby, who leads Centerpoint Church and is a lifelong Danville resident, said the slayings were just the latest example of evil in the form of drugs and violence that seems to be encroaching on the town of 16,000.
But Kilby, and the six other pastors who spoke, each preached on the theme that those who had died too soon were in a better place and that God had the power to heal those left behind. Their message was amplified with inspirational videos shown on an inflatable screen propped against the brick courthouse wall, electric cables snaking through the grass.
Pieces of paper scribbled with condolences covered three towers at the edge of the crowd that represented each of the victims — Michael and Angela Hockensmith, and Daniel P. Smith.
The tower lights were pointed toward the heavens.
Bells chimed as the courthouse clock struck 8 p.m. and Brett Benton, pastor at Mitchellsburg Baptist Church, urged those in mourning to seek solace through prayer. "Let us accept Jesus Christ and to turn to him for our healing because there is no other way but to lay this at the foot of the cross," he said.
"Let us pray to make him the center of our lives, the center of this community and the center of this world."
The crowd came together just blocks from where the shootings took place. Michael Hockensmith, 35; and Angela Hockensmith, 38, both of Lincoln County, and Smith, 60, of Richmond were killed at ABC, Gold, Games and More.
Michael Hockensmith, a part-time youth minister Mitchellsburg Baptist Church, was a co-owner of the shop. Angela Hockensmith, who home-schooled their son, often helped out. Smith was a frequent costumer.
The couple's two children, Andrew, 9, and Naomi, 14 months, were in the store at the time of the shootings. The boy called police to report what he described as a robbery and shooting.
Kilby and the other preachers promised the vigil crowd that the lives of those lost were not in vain because the gathering was a testament to the power of prayer and forgiveness.
Dressed in a gray hoodie and jeans, T.J. Summers, 15, took the microphone to tell the crowd that Michael Hockensmith was an inspiration to him and had helped encourage the teen in his dream of being a pastor. The crowd broke into applause and a chorus of "amens" as Summers said he was just a kid and didn't know much, but he knew one thing — "Michael and Angela are in a better place."
Debbie Elmore, her teenage daughter, Amber, and her husband, Jeff, leaned on one another, holding candles, heads bowed, as the strains of a gospel tune filled the darkening night. Debbie Elmore said she didn't know the victims but felt the pull to attend the vigil because she hoped to show the mourning families that the community stood behind them. She also hoped to find a measure of peace for herself. In a small town, she said, you think these things don't happen. But "it just shows it can happen anywhere."
Danville police are seeking information about the suspect in Friday's triple homicide. The suspect has been identified as a heavyset white man, 40 to 50 years old, with a pot belly. He was wearing a green camouflage jacket. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire Arms has offered a $10,000 reward. People with information should call Danville police at (859) 238-1220.