Sunlight stayed to brighten the outpouring of hope and love the Cohasset community brought for Ana Walshe on the town Common 11 days after she vanished in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.
“We feel isolated by fear, by grief, and that is one of the most powerful ways in which trauma can harm us, to separate us from each other, to make us feel helpless, afraid and alone,” said the Rev. Maggie Arnold, of Cohasset’s St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, in the vigil’s third prayer Thursday afternoon.
She added “we are not islands unto ourselves, we are a community, a human family, and we are created to help and support each other in friendship and love.”
The sunlight had just begun to dim for a minute of silence, during which heads bowed and silent prayer could be seen playing across the lips of those in attendance.
“Amazing Grace” played out the twilight through the loudspeakers, bolstered by humming and, here and there, a quavering voice. Then all that remained were the candles on the ground and the lights that remained on the park’s trees, put there for Christmas.
Many of the attendees the Herald spoke with had not known Ana, or the Walshe family at all, but many came for the same reasons, they said: to share in a sense of community in a place that feels, in the words of resident Ralph Dunham, “as far away as you’d think you could be for something like this to happen. … You just don’t want to be alone.”
He also said that the case is of great interest because “every day there is a new puzzle piece” that leaves him “in a state of disbelief.”
Gary Burrow, spokesman for a group of three attendees in which the others didn’t want to give their name carried “strong Cohasset roots,” said “These types of mysteries are very unique compared to tragedies in town. … This is very different. This does not happen here. And it really rocked us.”
One woman confirmed that she knew Ana Walshe with a small nod before averting her eyes and walking on, saying, “It’s just too sad.”
“It’s not every day that this happens. That’s why we’re gathering together today, to gather warmth inside ourselves,” said resident Gracie Thompson. “It’s devastating for the community. And those poor boys.”
The three Walshe boys, all six or younger, were the central figures in many of the attendee’s minds.
Ana Walshe’s friend and business associate, Pamela Bardhi confirmed to reporters that the boys have remained together, which had been her goal, and are sheltered in the same Department of Children and Families facility.
“I just pray for the best but prepare for the worst. That’s the best thing we can do in a scenario like this,” she said. “You know, as each day unfolds you get more terrifying information as time goes by.”
Bardhi had made the news rounds on Wednesday along with fellow Walshe friend Natasha Sky, who owns Sky International Center, a non-profit business and social network for international professionals that Walshe was involved in, to plead to authorities not to separate the children, who went under state custody following the arrest of Ana’s husband Brian on Sunday.
“They’ve been completely sheltered, and that’s OK,” Bardhi said of the children. “We just pray that at least that they’re together and people know there are many families, in the inner circle of Ana and others, who have called after all the articles that came out yesterday and this morning, that they’d be able to take the children in.”
The children were also the central focus of the prayer offered by Jeanne Cregan, an associate of St. Anthony’s Catholic Catholic Church.
“Lord our God, be with the Walshe children in this time of uncertainty, fear and confusion, may you surround them with your grace, light and confidence that they find strength to face the challenges and difficulties that have been thrust upon them now and in the days ahead,” she said in prayer.
At that prayer’s conclusion, a little boy in his mother’s arms asks in a small, plaintive voice, “Mama, what’s happened?”
She shushes him, but pulls him closer, as she does the two other little ones standing by her side. Three young children, like Ana Walshe.