Loved ones remembered Eli Hart at a vigil in Mound on Friday as a happy, patient child who loved his Matchbox cars and dreamed of being a firefighter one day.
More than 100 people gathered at Westonka Library in Mound, many growing emotional as they mourned the 6-year-old found dead last week in the trunk of his mother's car. Hart's mother, 28-year-old Julissa Thaler, is charged with second-degree murder in his death.
"The community really needs to come together to grieve and heal and support each other," said Jessica Goude, who helped organize the event.
About a dozen members of Eli's family were in attendance at the vigil. They declined interviews with the press, asking for privacy.
Relatives say they had told officials involved in the ongoing custody battle that they were worried Thaler would harm her son rather than lose him.
At the vigil, Mound Fire Rescue dedicated a firefighter helmet to the young boy, and said he was part of their force. Those in attendance prayed for Eli and his family, and handed out bouquets of flowers and balloons to family members.
Community support for the family has been strong, said Chris Foley of Spring Park, another vigil organizer.
"Everybody's coming together with the donations ... Small businesses [are] doing all they can," Foley said.
Mound Mayor Ray Salazar said it's important for the small community along the western shore of Lake Minnetonka to remember Eli and do what they can for his family.
"It's a lot of mourning," Salazar said. "Our citizens are in a great mourning, we are here to heal."
Deedra Longquist was handing out candles to mourners.
"I'm trying hard not to cry," Longquist said. "I have a kindergartener. It just hits home as a parent."