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November 23, 2013

Candle vigil honors the memory of missing persons, crime victims, members of military

TERRE HAUTE — The outside temperature at the heart of Terre Haute Saturday night was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but dozens braved the cold weather to pay tribute to the memories of lost loved ones.

The cold, dark night seemed bright and warm thanks to the dedication of those who attended the 10th Candlelight Vigil and Christmas Tree Lighting, an annual event honoring victims of crime, missing persons and all members of the military.

The event was conducted outside Terre Haute City Hall beside the Ribbon of Hope. The theme of this year’s vigil was “Love lives on.”

Organizer Merv Javins said the event is to raise awareness for victims of crime and for military personnel.

“It seems like a lot of our military, they don’t get the respect that they deserve,” Javins told the Tribune-Star. “And a lot of the victims are having a hard time during the holiday season, and we hope that they can get a message tonight that’ll help them through the season.”

Two trees were decorated and lit during the hour-long ceremony. The military tree was decorated with red, white and blue lights and colors, while the other tree — for victims of crime and missing persons — sparkled with gold colors. Gold and yellow colors are usually associated with missing persons, Javins said.

“It gives an opportunity for people to come out, place an ornament on the tree to remember their lost loved ones,” he said.

 Javins said many people in the community have asked him and his wife, Doreena, to continue holding the event, which they started after experiencing a tragedy in their lives.

In May 2002, their then 20-year-old son, Scott, went missing. The five-year search for him ended when his remains were found inside his car in the Wabash River near Fairbanks Park in October 2007.

And on Saturday, as they joined hands and held the lighted candles, the attendees paid tribute to those they lost.

The program also included music, songs, posting of colors and several guest speakers.

One of the guest speakers put the cold weather in a different perspective.

Lt. Col. Hal Johnston — who has served the country overseas multiple times and represented the military at the event — told the attendees to “consider as you stand here in what some of you may consider a bit cold ... in a few minutes, you’ll get back in your cars and go home. And you’ll be with your families ...”

“While you are doing that, young men and women will be on patrol defending you in [the mountains of Afghanistan]. They will be facing the snow, the cold, the isolation, the roadside attacks, the ambushes, the suicide bombers,” he said.

“And they will be doing it so you can enjoy the comforts of home and hearth and family,” he continued. “And they do this willingly as volunteers.”

Another guest speaker, Alan Pedersen, provided another perspective.

“But it’s not too cold out here, you know why? It’s never too cold to be here for somebody you love,” he said. “It’s never too hot to walk in a walk to remember for somebody you love.”

Pedersen, who also sang at the event, is a singer/songwriter and inspirational speaker on grief and loss.

As part of the Angels Across the USA Tour, Pedersen and his wife, Denise, have traveled the nation performing songs and speaking at events to “bring hope and encouragement to bereaved families,” its website said.

In 2001, Pedersen lost his only daughter, Ashley, in a car accident in Colorado.

And from his grief journey, Pedersen shared a piece of advice to attendees.

“Early on, I was taught that it is OK for me to be Ashley’s daddy for as long as I live, not for as long as she lived,” he told the crowd.

“You and I are living proof tonight that love does not die just because somebody you love dies,” he continued. “And that’s why we stand out here in this ridiculous weather.”

He said that people watching may think that they stood there because somebody they love died. But that was only part of the story, Pedersen said.

“You and I are here tonight because somebody we love, lived,” he said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or

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