Salem — Hundreds of candles lit up the Town Green just as darkness set in Thursday night as this small town remembered one of its lost sons.
A candlelight vigil was held for Jeffrey Bourgeois, the 6-year-old who died tragically early Tuesday in a tragic wood-chipper accident.
Members of the Bourgeois family attended the vigil, along with more than 300 others. The family began the remembrance by lighting the first candles. Clergy members then led several prayers and First Selectman Kevin Lyden spoke briefly.
Then the Bourgeois family, led by Jeffrey's mother, Corinne, slowly made its way around the crowd. The family shared many long embraces with neighbors, friends and firefighters and emergency personnel who responded to the scene of the accident.
"Thank you to everyone for all of the support and generosity," Corinne "Cory" Bourgeois said as she briefly addressed the crowd from a microphone. "We are just so grateful to everyone."
As the vigil got under way, several parents kept their children close and spoke with others about how the tragedy has gripped the town. Once the family arrived and was seated next to a small stage on the green, many people used one hand to hold a lit candle. Some used their free hand to wipe away tears.
The Rev. Timothy Dubeau of the Congregational Church of Salem was first to lead the group in prayer.
"We want to join them as they walk through this ordeal of losing a son and a brother," Dubeau said. "Tonight is an opportunity to enter, as best we can, into their suffering and pain."
Jeffrey was working next to his father, Scott Bourgeois, and two siblings, Nicole and Zach, at the time of the accident. A first-grade student at Salem School, he was described as a boy who loved baseball and soccer. He was a Tiger Cub in the town's Cub Scout Pack 22, pack leader Jim Choquette said earlier this week.
His death has led this town of about 4,000 and others to start various support efforts. The town on Wednesday set up a special fund for the Bourgeois family at the town's branch of Chelsea Groton Bank. Donations, which the family could use for any help they need, continued to come in Thursday, Lyden said.
The vigil was the latest attempt by the town to help the family grieve. People lingered late into the night and sang "Amazing Grace" and other hymns as they waited for a chance to offer condolences to the family.
One woman broke down in tears as she held Corinne Bourgeois for several moments. Another explained just before the vigil started: "It could have been anyone's child."
And as the Bourgeois family neared the end of the crowd, someone shouted loudly three words for the family to hang on to: "We love you."
There will be a Mass of Christian Burial on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Holy Cross Parish on Biruta Street in New Britain. A burial will follow at Sacred Heart Cemetery.