The sobs came hard and fast for friends of missing teen Gabrielle Swainson during a Tuesday night vigil.
Their tears, streaming down cheeks, reflected the warm light of candles, burning as a symbol of hope that their friend and classmate will be found.
Cheerleaders, football players, teachers and neighbors passed a flame from candle to candle as Chris Kelly, Gabrielles guitar teacher, performed the Christian song, Our God.
If our God is for us, who can ever stop us? Kelly sang. If our God is with us, who could even stand against us?
As Kelly finished his song, he shouted, Bring Gab home!
More than 300 people attended the vigil where teachers and fellow students from Ridge View High School talked about Gabrielle and what she brought into their lives. Five church pastors prayed, and students sang and danced as they expressed hope that the missing teen could be found.
The vigil was organized by several families in the Lake Carolina community, which sends some of its students to Ridge View High School, said Venyke Harley, one of the organizers.
We just felt it was important for this mother to know we support her, Harley said. Were standing by her until her daughter comes home.
Elvia Swainson lit the first candle but did not speak to the audience. Richland County sheriffs deputies escorted her through the crowd as the ceremony ended.
Gabrielle, known as Gabbiee to her friends, disappeared from her Northeast Richland home in the wee hours of the morning of Aug. 18 after her mother left for work. Sheriff Leon Lott will give an update in the case this morning during a press conference.
A man who was involved with Elvia Swainson has been charged with the teens kidnapping but has not cooperated in the search for her, Lott has said. The suspect, Freddie Grant, is being held in the Lexington County Detention Center on a federal weapons charge.
His name was never mentioned during the vigil.
Instead, people shared stories about Gabbiees sparkle, optimism and laughter.
Jennifer McLeod, chairwoman of the science department at Ridge View, described Gabbiee as a shy freshman who had blossomed in her first year of high school. Gabbiee was proving herself as a bright student in the high schools bioscience magnet program, McLeod said. She also had made the junior varsity cheerleading squad during the spring.
This week, students at Ridge View are doing something each day to honor Gabbiee. On Tuesday, the boys wore blue shirts and the girls wore blue eye shadow because Gabbiee loved the color.
Nicole Walker, Gabbiees freshman English teacher, admitted that blue eye shadow was not her style but she put it on after imagining what Gabbiees fashion advice would be.
She would tell me, Go big and dont worry about the haters.
Walker also talked about Gabbiees response to a writing assignment for Lord of the Flies. The next day, Gabbiee came to class with 16 pages of notes comparing the books characters to biblical characters. The notes were comprehensive, organized and reflective of Gabbiees sincere religious beliefs, the teacher said.
She had a vision and she had a plan, Walker said. She knew what she was talking about. She knew how to get it done.
Gabbiee is smart and resourceful and that is what is keeping me going thorough this.
Nissy Abraham and Keva Jones, two sophomore classmates in the bioscience program, struggled through tears as they talked about Gabbiee.
I dont think anyone was ever hurt by knowing Gabbiee, Abraham said. She would spark up your day with a few simple words.
Everyone who spoke held hope that Gabbiee will be returned to her family. They quoted scripture and professed their faith that God would carry them as they wait for Gabbiee to come home.
The hardest tears fell during Walkers song and while two seniors in Ridge Views gospel choir, Devon Hill and Imani Wiley-English, sang the song, Rescue. Its lyrics included the line, I need you Jesus to come to my rescue.
After the vigil, several football players swayed in a group hug. A few wiped tears from their eyes.
Nearby, the Ridge View cheerleading squad held hands as their coach, Morgan Daniels, encouraged them to stay positive.
I know it hurts, Daniels said. Know that no matter what happens, this family is strong and we will stick together.