ONA - Up into an ink black night, a candle-lit paper sky lantern flew.
It rose up above hundreds of eyes all wet with tears watching Sunday night for a light that went out too soon among them.
The field below was Cabell Midland High School's Chris Parsons Track & Field Complex, where coach Parsons and the CMHS school family gathered by the hundreds for a candlelight vigil for junior Stephen Woolums, who family say committed suicide on Saturday.
Organized by Parson's wife, Kim, and their daughter, Jessalyn, with the help of Rhonda Smith and other track team volunteers, the vigil was a night of sharing the pain and grief felt in the wake of the loss of Woolums, the son of local urologist Dr. Stephen Woolums and his wife, Cindy.
While minister Peter Ambler is normally sharing the gospel at Randolph Street Baptist Church in Hurricane on Sunday nights, he was out in the cold ministering at the vigil, whose program read "Running teaches us to keep moving forward, one step at a time, especially in the most painful moments."
Walking around the track in memory of Woolums while a recording of Vince Gill's "Go Rest High On That Mountain" played, Ambler said everyone who spoke had a similar message of hope and pulling tighter together to comfort one another.
"The message that was shared by Stephen's father made by John Buckland from Heroes-4-Higher, and myself as well, is just for friends to come together and talk and to not lose hope and to look to others for help," Ambler said. "We read the familiar Psalms 23 because we not only need help from our friends, but we need help from the Lord as well, and we need to look beyond ourselves and stop thinking we have everything within ourselves to deal with the pain in our lives."
Buckland, the well known inspirational Batman who tried to commit suicide many years ago after a life of child sexual abuse and addiction, said he was called to help the family use the dark experience to help turn "Pain into Power." He sat down with the family, and they all filmed interviews to be used for a DVD to help other families cope and to help prevent other suicides.
Stephen's sister Sarah also spoke at the vigil, thanking everyone for coming out to share in the light of love for her brother, who she said will be remembered as a fun and strong, caring guy. She urged the crowd of mostly high school students and parents to look around them and to think of one another and take care of one another.
"Don't be afraid to cry, boys," Sarah said. "Don't be afraid to help and to be there for the person standing next to you, and to be there for the person standing behind you. In this time, this is all we have. We have each other; we have to keep walking. We have to make this mean something and mean something good."
Coach Parsons said the tragedy of one of his runners taking their own lives was a first in all his years of coaching, and that everyone is coming together to make their way through it.
Marlena Smith has been an assistant track coach for four years and has a senior on the team.
"It has hit home, and it has hit hard," Smith said. "They are not looking forward to going back to school Monday."
Cabell County Schools spokesperson Jedd Flowers said Sunday afternoon that while the school had not posted anything publicly out of respect for the family's privacy, that the school system has already arranged for counseling help on Monday at Cabell Midland.
"We arranged (Saturday) morning for extra counselors to be on hand at the school Monday morning to help any students who need to talk, and members of our Central Office staff will be there as well to see if we can help in any way," Flowers said. "We are all absolutely heartbroken for Stephen, his family and his friends. I didn't have the pleasure of knowing him personally, but I understand from many who have shared with me that he was an outstanding young man, and we anticipate a large number of students are being deeply impacted by his passing. ... It's just so very tragic. Our prayers are with his family and his friends at this terrible time."