JSU Newswire
Jacksonville, Alabama

Candlelight vigil brings solace

Abby Knight
JSU News Bureau

"Comfort," promised Pearl Williams Friday night, during a candlelight vigil at Pete Mathews Coliseum at Jacksonville State University, "is born in the spirit of others."

The retired JSU employee stood on strong legs in front of the grieving crowd of roughly 400 who had gathered to remember and mourn the victims of the quadruple homicide at the Blockbuster Video Store in Anniston on May 15.

Williams' presence on the program was labeled as Keynote Speaker, the title implying that she was the one, after the introductions and formalities were over, who could provide all the answers to all of the questions. But the questions that arose when a gunman murdered, execution style, Austin Joplin, Doug Neal, Andrew Burch and Joseph Burch in a video store on a weekday evening, had no answers.

The vigil, organized by the JSU Counseling and Career Services, was originally slated to be held on the Square in the City of Jacksonville but weather forced it inside. Hosted by Pam Key, public services supervisor at Houston Cole Library and a victim's advocate, the vigil was held to help the Jacksonville community with the process of healing.

Speakers included Jacksonville City Mayor Dr. Jerry Smith and Dr. Rebecca Turner, vice president of academic and student affairs at JSU who cautioned the audience not to sensationalize the murderer but to remain focused on the four young men who had died.

But if anyone could offer solace to the solemn crowd of men, women and children, it was Pearl Williams, whose son Dwayne was killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on September 11th. But instead of answers, Williams could only offer comfort and strength. She stood there, she said, in memory of her son; her presence giving hope to those who needed the courage to move forward.

Her voice strained through what sounded like a lump of tears in her throat as she spoke, offering her experience as a life line to the mourning friends and family. "God is greater than anything the enemy can put before us."

Although there were no answers to the many why questions that were asked, the question of who had hopefully been put to rest earlier in the day when Anniston City Police Chief Wayne Chandler announced that they had a suspect, Donald Wheat of Clay County, in custody.

After the family members of the victims lit their candles, the rest of the crowd joined them on the floor of the coliseum. As the threat of severe thunderstorms and tornados loomed outside, the 400 became one as they sang "Amazing Grace" and held their candles in the darkness, fighting back the storm of grief, and searching for answers.


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