Friends, family and even strangers turned out at J.F. Gregory Park on Friday evening in honor of Evan Nelms, the 5-year-old Richmond Hill boy who died recently after battling leukemia for the past year.
Many attendees wore orange — the color in support of leukemia — and carried candles or glow sticks to help light up the park in Evan’s memory.
“I am here today for Evan. He inspires me to try to reach out and help someone,” said Kathi Spence, who brought her son, Lee, to the vigil to show support for Evan’s family. “I was hoping to help (Evan), but unfortunately now I have to try to help someone else, and be here for his family. I read about him and was inspired.”
Among those who came to pay their respects was Gnate the Gnat, the Sand Gnats mascot who helped at various fundraising events for Evan. A memory box was set up so people could write down memories they had of Evan to share memories with his mother, Evette, and family. Donations were also accepted to help pay for his medical care.
Melissa Pacut, who organized the vigil, welcomed everyone and opened up the floor to the speakers. Sarah Holland, a close family friend spoke on behalf of Evan’s family. Speaking through tears, she shared how much she loved Evan and how devastating it was to learn about his final diagnosis. She also noted the support shown by the community.
“Growing up in Richmond Hill, I cannot remember a time when a community has ever been so close,” she said. “People that do not even know Evan or Evette do such amazing things for them and their family.”
Other speakers included former teachers, family, friends and Father Josef Smith from St. Anne’s Catholic Church. They shared memories of Evan, read poems and grieved with the community. The vigil was closed with a moment of silence and the song “Precious Child.”
“He was an inspiration,” said Cindy Posela, Evan’s teacher at Richmond Hill Primary School. “He was an inspiration to all of us — a kind spirit and a fighter. The kids adored him and we adored him. He will always have a special place in our heart.”
A memorial service is being planned for early May in J.F. Gregory Park. The time and date has not yet been set.
Donations to help pay for Evan’s care are being taken at the Children’s Village, 2641 Highway 17 in Richmond Hill.