Feelings of grief, shock and anger were voiced by the hundreds of people who gathered at two vigils in Belfast and Stockton Springs this weekend to remember the life of Marissa Kennedy, the 10-year-old girl who was found dead on Feb. 25, allegedly beaten to death by her mother and stepfather in their Stockton Springs condominium.
The vigil in Belfast’s Post Office Square was held on Saturday evening, and a second vigil occurred Sunday evening outside the Stockton Springs town office. Both offered a chance for community members to come together to grieve and process the girl’s tragic death, which has roiled tight-knit Waldo County over the past week.
A third vigil is set for 5 p.m. Monday at Cascade Park in Bangor.
Marissa’s aunt and uncle, Fran and Michael Kennedy, arrived just as the vigil in Belfast began. They drove eight hours from their home in Hamden, Connecticut, on Saturday to attend the gathering.
With a shaking voice, Fran Kennedy said that they were blindsided by the news about Marissa’s tragic death — and that their niece was loved, deeply, by her family.
“She does have a loving family, she really does. Her grandparents love her so much,” she said. “It wasn’t her choice. They took her from the family. She fell through the cracks. We just have to pray that she’s looking down on us and that’s she in no more pain.”
In Stockton Springs, a number of people from area churches and schools spoke during the hour-long ceremony, including Rev. Ruth Martin from the Sandy Point Congregational Church, She read a letter written by members of Marissa’s family describing some of the things the quiet, timid little girl loved — going to the Maine State Aquarium in Boothbay to put her hands in the touch tank, swimming, yoga, dancing, building Lego and, most of all, reading.
“She liked going to the library to take out new books to read, which was really her favorite pastime,” read the letter.
Rose Grant, a Belfast resident who formerly worked as a counselor for an organization that she declined to identify, said she encountered Marissa in her previous job, and knew she came from an unhappy home — but did not know how bad it really was.
“I knew she had a tough life. I didn’t know how bad it was,” said Grant, who was at the Belfast vigil. “She was a beautiful child. She didn’t deserve this. Nobody does.”
Stockton Springs resident Patti Beeton helped organize the Belfast vigil and was there with her daughter, Belfast resident Alicia Beeton. After handing out candles and blue ribbons symbolizing the fight against child abuse, Patti Beeton said that as soon as she heard what happened, she immediately imagined her own granddaughter going through such pain.
“That could be my granddaughter. I live eight minutes away from where they lived,” Beeton said. “You hear about things like this happening in other places, but when it happens here, you just can’t believe it … how could this happen? She was failed by too many people.”
Debbie Patten of Searsmont was in Belfast with her granddaughter, and echoed the sense that Marissa, a once lively young girl, was failed by the organizations in place in Maine to help abused children.
“So many people tried to help her. So many people tried to do the right thing. And she was just let down, over and over again,” Patten said. “Thank God she doesn’t have to endure the pain anymore.”
The Stockton Springs vigil was a solemn gathering, with hymns and prayers and more than 200 people huddled together against the chilly evening.
“I didn’t know Marissa personally, but the fact that this happened right here, so close, it broke my heart, hard,” said Jenna Keach, a sophomore at Searsport District High School. “We’re all planning to wear navy blue on Wednesday, March 7, at all three schools, just to be aware and be there for each other.”
In Belfast, there was a palpable sense among the crowd of anger and frustration, at how a death that seemed so preventable had occurred.
“Think about all the children we don’t know about, going through the same kind of thing,” said Vi Noyes, a Belfast resident. “You have to speak up. You have to say something.”
“Something has got to change in the system,” Patti Beeton said. “Something has got to change.”
A previous version of this story misspelled Patti Beeton’s name.
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