On a day when people gather to celebrate new beginnings, they came together to grieve a death. In a neighborhood where we try to raise children, they came to bury one.

Under leaden skies late Saturday afternoon, the pastors and the politicians were somber, then angry. Somber that Terrell Mayes Jr., as innocent as they come at age 3, became the city's youngest homicide victim. Angry that gunshots are so common near 26th and Colfax Avenues N. that even a toddler who has yet to learn all his ABCs knew to run for a closet when he heard them.

Little Terrell Mayes, the kid with the big smile, never made it to the closet with the plate of spaghetti he was carrying. A stray bullet, one of a countless number that ricochet through this neighborhood each year, hit him in the back of the head and killed him.

It was a nice vigil, as vigils go. We are, after all, becoming quite accomplished at them. What we're not so good at is getting rid of a need for vigils. The city has a terrible hangover today and it has nothing to do with New Year's Eve.

At the back of the crowd Saturday, Colleen Patterson cried and hugged people. She doesn't know the Mayes family, but she drove in from Robbinsdale because "of this great atrocity. People in this neighborhood shouldn't have to worry about this," she said. "Some things hit you hard, and this hits hard."

As the crowd grew to a couple of hundred, some sang along with the music on a loudspeaker. What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. A man in a Knicks jacket held his young son, probably a little tighter.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar talked about how much this community has gone through, about the death of Tyesha Edwards, struck by a stray bullet while doing her homework inside her south Minneapolis house in 2002. She talked about the tornado that demolished the neighborhood this summer and the strength of the people.

"It starts with hope, and the hope is right here," said Klobuchar.

State Sen. Linda Higgins, who represents the district, warned against the North Side tradition of shooting into the air on New Year's Eve. "No more random, stupid gunfire," she said.

"This is a major symptom of the illness in this community," said Don Samuels, Minneapolis City Council member. "These acts of violence seem to be so senseless. To make sense, it has to inspire us to do more than we've ever done," Samuels said. "This is not Somalia."

That effort started with a list that was passed through the crowd so people could sign up to cook a meal for Marsha Mayes and her surviving children for the next month. Mayes, her face puffy from all the tears, all the heartbreak, stood at the center of the circle and hugged her son.

K.G. Wilson of Hope Ministries, a hulking man wearing camouflage, seemed ready for the battle.

"They need to hear us down the block and on the corner," he bellowed. "We've got to understand this is a 3-year-old baby killed. If this was a rapper, there would be people in the trees and you wouldn't be able to get through. Something is wrong here."

The people who gathered at that corner also wanted to send a message to the accidental shooter and anyone who knows who that person is: A little boy is dead, and you need to grow a conscience and step forward. You need to pick up the phone and call the police.

Wilson warned any witnesses that having the courage to turn in the shooter might save their own children.

"It was little Terrell that day," he said. "But them bullets are coming to a neighborhood near you."

"Tell it!" somebody yelled.

"Because if we don't get this chump who did this off the streets, your baby could be next," Wilson said.

And we will continue to live in a city in which a happy-go-lucky 3-year-old dies before he can make it to the closet, before he knows his ABCs, before he can eat his spaghetti dinner.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702