Minutes earlier, Joe Williams had collapsed, sobbing, his slight frame supported by family members and friends in front of the Minneapolis duplex where he found his girlfriend and her son brutally slain last week.
But as the pastor from the church down the street led hundreds of Williams' supporters in a prayer of defiant hope for Katricia Daniels, her 10-year-old son, Robert Shepard, and their neighborhood, Williams lifted his tear-stained cheeks to the sky, set his jaw and raised a clenched fist.
"We can't do anything right now for the people that's gone," the Rev. Charles Graham said, his voice rising. "But we can make a difference for the people in this community."
Williams looked past the police tape that still draped the front porch and marched down the street in the Kingfield neighborhood.
It was a message of remembrance, mourning and angry revolt against what the gathered crowd perceived as a status quo of senseless violence that has plagued too many Twin Cities neighborhoods for too long.
Neighbors gathered to remember or to hear about Robert, a rambunctious boy who looked forward to football practice and to starting fifth grade, and his mother, who had three other children.
Their bodies, beaten and stabbed, were found by Williams in the duplex in the 3600 block of 1st Avenue S. Williams' 18-month-old daughter with Daniels was also found in the home, covered in blood but unharmed.
Two 17-year-old boys, both described as acquaintances of the victims, were arrested Friday in connection with the killings. They were booked in the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center on probable cause murder. Their identities were not released because they are juveniles.
The motive for the killings is unknown. Police have said they are not looking for other suspects.
As the blockwide crowd slowly made its way to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Michelle Hall looked on, shaking her head. She and her husband have raised six children in the neighborhood. Two of her sons, Chad and Chris, coached Robert in basketball. They carried a photo of the boy smiling eagerly and wrestling with a ball nearly as big as he was.
"When something like this happens, I have such mixed emotions," Hall said. "I know we do positive things in this community, but this is such a setback. It makes me wonder: Have we really done our part as a community?"
She looked on as the crowd chanted declarations of change for violence-plagued neighborhoods.
"Some things might just go back to normal," she said. "But out of this crowd, if we can affect 10, 20 people to change, we made a difference."
Cristobal Pena's entire family has lived on the same block for 65 years. He was raised there. Two sisters, a cousin and now he and his girlfriend are raising their children there.
On Monday night, Pena paused and exhaled, admitting that he was overcome by sadness. But there was more that consumed him.
"We've always had a tight-knit community on our block. Hopefully, this will just make it tighter," he said. "Then they'll know in 15, 20, 50 years how good of a job we did. We were committed before this happened. We'll be committed after."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921