CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Close to 200 people packed Barnitz Stadium in Middletown Tuesday night in honor of James Hutchinson, the 6-year-old boy whose harrowing death last weekend has become a regionwide source of grief.
The Middletown School District hosted the vigil just after sundown.
Front and center was a portrait of James painted by Middletown High School art students. Members of the school district spoke beside it to a bleacher-bound audience gathered for a moment of collective mourning.
“We are heartbroken,” Principal Tracy Neely said. “There’s a long road of healing ahead of us.”
James was a first-grader at Rosa Parks Elementary, located across the street from the stadium.
The tone in Barnitz Stadium Tuesday night was one of remembrance and sympathy.
“Every child deserves to be loved, and we just want James to know we absolutely loved him,” District Superintendent Marlon Styles said.
“When he was small, he touched our hearts with his red hair and bright eyes,” Neely said.
Leigh Pheiffer is one of James’s former teachers. She fought to hold back the tears as she spoke about him.
“His life mattered to this entire community,” she said.
“When I close my eyes and pictures James, I see him rounding the corner, coming towards the kindergarten classrooms. I see his little hands clenching the straps of his backpack and his tiny feet coming down the hall. He would be the first one to greet me every morning.”
Those who showed up say they just wanted to be there for their community.
“I just can’t imagine someone doing that to a 6-year-old,” said Michael Ingram, who attended the vigil. “Like, how could they do that?”
Middletown Police Chief David Birk says it was the first memorial he’d attended for a murdered child in his position as chief of police.
“When you go through something like this, you bring it home with you,” he said. “(...) It’s an experience I hope I don’t have to go through as chief again.”
The school district says they are putting together a fund with a local financial institution for James’s two older siblings.
A vigil to honor James and 3-year-old Nylo Lattimore, for whom authorities are also currently searching in the Ohio River, will be held at the Masonic Lodge in Middletown Wednesday at 6 p.m.
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