Hundreds of family and friends of a slain 14-year-old Princeton boy descended upon the New Life Church parking lot Tuesday evening in an impromptu vigil for the boy who loved Legos and riding his bike with friends.
"I want to say thank you to this wonderful community for pulling together during this tragic loss of an innocent child," the boy's father Danny Nelson wrote on Facebook after the vigil, which included about 200 friends and Princeton Middle School classmates of Eric's. "I was so amazed at the wonderful turnout and how strong this community can be and how we can all pull together in tough times. I was speechless at the love that was shown tonight."
Nelson said he had been nervous about going out in public after the death of his son, but thanked those who showed up. "This amazing little man will always be remembered by so many."
Eric Nelson was at his house with another 14-year-old boy when a gun went off around 3:55 p.m. Monday. Authorities have not said how the boys came in contact with the gun and Princeton Police said Wednesday the investigation continues.
On Tuesday, Nelson's aunt, Emma Nelson, called the shooting "a tragic event." She implored parents to put their kids through firearm safety education.
"A lot of people do have guns and a kid can go to a friend's [where there is one]," she said. "They need to know what weapons can do."
Some 200 students and 150 parents and teachers attended the Tuesday night vigil. Many of them brought cards, notes and flowers; they read poems, prayed and wore red, Nelson's favorite color.
"It was overwhelming to see the community come together," New Life's youth pastor Corey Kalinowski said Wednesday. "When we are in a hard place, we do that together."
It was Nelson's classmates, some who attend New Life, who approached Kalinowski and initiated Tuesday's gathering, he said.
Princeton School Superintendent Julia Espe said Tuesday was "a really tough day." Nelson was an eighth-grader at the middle school and just last Friday was honored with a Character Award for his enthusiasm.
He was proud of the award and "wanted it laminated because he didn't want anything to happen to it," Espe said.
In a Facebook post, Emma Nelson wrote "I don't know how we are going to do this without ya. The thought of it breaks [my] heart even more. Eric Nelson you would not believe how many people have come together to honor YOU and to support us. It's been overwhelming to say the least but I'll tell you all about it when I see you again."
Funeral services will be held Friday at New Life Church in Princeton. Visitation will be held at noon and services will start at 1 p.m.