It was two years ago when members of the Beverly, Waterford and surrounding communities began meeting nightly at Beverly's Dodge Park to pray for then four-year-old Ava Nichols, who had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
On Wednesday evening, hundreds gathered in that same spot to remember and honor Nichols, who passed away Tuesday at the age of six.
Some were very close to her and many had never met her. They held candles while singing "Amazing Grace" and reciting the Lord's Prayer, tears streaming down their faces.
Ava Nichols candlelight vigil in Dodge Park in Beverly Ohio
Many, including Kyla Farmer, reflected on their fondest memories of the little girl. Farmer is the best friend of Ava's mother, Traci. Naturally, Farmer's daughter Jazmine, 8, and Ava Nichols were very close.
Farmer recalled the girls making Christmas cookies together and playing on the beach.
"I can't imagine a day without us thinking about her," she said.
ROBB DECAMP Special to The Times
Nine-year-old Angel Gutberlet was among hundreds of area residents to participate in a candlelight memorial for Ava Nichols.
Marietta resident Kayla Mitchell, treasurer of the BrAva organization, fondly remembered taking her daughter Adie, 3, to camp with the Nichols family.
Mitchell also reflected on the impact Ava Nichols has had on the community.
"People you wouldn't imagine hanging out together were planning a benefit," she said. "You saw people donate who didn't know David (Ava's dad) and Traci and they never met Ava, but I think that proves the kind of people that are in this community and the families they come from."
BrAva is named for Ava and Marietta resident Bridget Crock, whose own battle with a rare form of cancer rallied the community. The nonprofit organization aims to help local children battling cancer and raise awareness of childhood cancer.
Bridget Crock's mom, Desni, encouraged those who attended the candlelight vigil Wednesday to contribute to the efforts to find a cure for cancer, and always remember Ava and the battle she fought.
"Ava fought too hard and for too long to be forgotten," Desni Crock said.
Although she did personally know Ava Nichols, Waterford resident Heidi Tornes said she believes Ava would want the community to fight for a cure.
"She has touched so many. It's not fair a child is taken before her parents," she said.