Floris United Methodist Church was filled Wednesday evening with area students from Rachel Carson Middle School and Westfield High School as the community mourned the loss of the Peterson family.
The Petersons, father and mother Albert and Kathleen and sons Matthew and Christopher, were found dead in their home Tuesday afternoon in what police have determined was a murder-suicide.
“We’re here for a prayer vigil,” FUMC Rev. Tom Berlin said. “We’re not here for a memorial service. We’re not here to figure everything out.”
For those who came to the vigil — many of whom were students, wearing Westfield's signature black and yellow, sports gear or clothing bearing messages like "Rest in Peace" — it was hard to make sense of what happened to a family whom they know and love, and whose sudden absence was unsettling, Berlin said.
Berlin said when he heard the police had released a cause of death on Wednesday he couldn’t make sense of it himself.
“Primarily what I know about this family comes from you,” Berlin said. “You want to know what you’ve been saying?”
“This is a married couple that loves each other,” he said. “This is a man and a woman that really have a relationship. These are parents who love their kids. These are kids — I shouldn’t even call them kids, they’re too old to be called kids, really. These are brothers that love their parents, and you should see them together out in the front yard playing soccer.”
Berlin said there is no good way to put what happened into context, noting it’s particularly confusing for area students to suddenly see an empty desk in school where they know a student is supposed to be, or to go to a sports practice knowing a teammate is missing.
“Half my brain is saying, ‘We don’t lose a family all at once,’” Berlin said. He said yesterday he was thinking about the loss, but also how to explain it. No matter what the reason, it is a tragedy, he said.
The conversation that began Tuesday's events will continue, Berlin said, adding those of all faiths were welcome to the church and could stay after the vigil to pray or speak with one of the counselors on hand.
He said all faith communities gather, pray and light candles for many reasons, and when tragedy strikes a community, its members, regardless of beliefs, begin to see how close they really are.
“We’re going to come tonight and we’re going to pray,” he said. “Our church is hurting the way you’re hurting."
After a number of prayers, Bible readings and songs, those in attendance were able to write their concerns, thoughts, condolences and prayers on slips of paper that were placed in baskets. The baskets were brought up to the altar and the messages were raised up in prayer.
“I think God wants you to hear that you’re all connected,” Berlin told those in attendance. He urged them to be kind and generous to each other, to build each other up, and to carry that into their daily lives.
Berlin said parents in the community need to continue the discussion with each other, so they can help their children work through their grief as well.
“Nobody in this community ought to be alone,” Berlin said.
At the end of the vigil, candles flickered to the sound of "Amazing Grace."
See other related stories:
- Photos: Community Grieves Herndon Family at Vigil
- Police Investigate Family's Death As Suspicious
- Family Found Dead in Herndon Home
- Photos: Police, Neighbors Gather Outside Herndon Home
- Police: Herndon Deaths Ruled Murder-Suicide
- FCPS Offers Support After Students' Deaths