Members of the New Castle community conquered grief, anger and loss last night by praying, lighting candles and releasing bouquets of red balloons into the air.
Hundreds gathered just before twilight outside Elham's Restaurant in Shenango Township, paying homage to the little boy who lost his life last week at the hands of an alleged brutal murderer.
The funeral for 8-year-old Mark "Markie" Edward Mason Jr. was Saturday. Last night, people hugged, wiped away tears and wore white t-shirts in his memory that read, "Our Little Hero. Rest in Peace, Markie."
Markie died of multiple stab wounds the night of July 8, after he and his brother allegedly had been abducted in a car by his mother's former boyfriend, Keith Burley, 43, of Edinburg. Burley brutally killed the child in the kitchen of the home of an acquaintance, at 60 High St. in Union Township, according to reports from the police. Markie's younger brother and two boys, ages 15 and 8, who were in the house, were witnesses to the brutal slaying.
Markie's mother, Maram Saada, wearing one of the white shirts with her son's picture, marveled at the great support and outreach that she and her family have received from the community and the local police since his death.
She said that she has lived in New Castle for 20 years, and looking around at the people there to support her family, she said, "I was never sure where home was, but this is home."
Kim Pagley, whose nephew, Joseph C. Pagley III, was murdered on Dec. 28, 2014, in Neshannock Township, pinned a red and black ribbon on Saada's shirt as a symbol of support that she passed on to her from Pagley's father, Joseph C. Pagley Jr.
Kim Pagley said she was there to offer her support to the family.
According to Saada, Markie's favorite color was red, hence the red balloons.
Markie's paternal grandmother, Margaret Gulish Baker, wept softly as the song "Amazing Grace" was played over the public address system.
"He was a happy-go-lucky guy," she said of her grandson. "He was so full of life. Every time he saw me he'd give me a hug."
"He also loved his grandfather's spaghetti," she said, sharing that Markie often would ask his grandfather, Daniel Baker of Pulaski, to make it for him.
Baker, who lives in an apartment building in Mahoningtown, said all of the residents there would enjoy watching Markie come over and play kickball with her outside.
"Every one of my neighbors love my grandkids," she said.
She was so devastated by Markie's death that on the night before his funeral she was admitted to the hospital with symptoms from stress. She was released in time to attend the service.
"All I want now is justice for him," she declared.
Baker said Markie recently told his father, Mark Edward Mason Sr., who is her son, that God was running with him.
Pastor John Owens of Victory Family Church, who led the prayers and coordinated last night's program, said, "Markie's having a blast with God right now."
Looking at the crowd he said, "there are so many family members here, and we're here to stand with them today."
Markie's uncle, Abdou Saada, owner of Elham's, thanked the crowd for attending and for celebrating Markie's life.
"Look at all of the support," he said. "We will never let evil prevail and we will always have love by our sides.
"I want to be half the man that Markie showed us to be that day," he said, adding, "With forgiveness and with God, everything will be all right."