JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Loved ones, activists and community members gathered Saturday evening to honor a 5-year-old Jacksonville girl with a candlelight vigil.
The group of people who have been closely following the search for Taylor Williams gathered at Losco Park in Mandarin.
Close to 50 people prayed and sang songs to honor Taylor under the park’s pavilion.
Those who attended were encouraged to bring candles and toys. The group hosting the vigil plans to take donations for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Amanda Simpson, one of the vigil’s organizers, knows firsthand what it’s like to have a child go missing. Her daughter was kidnapped and sold into human trafficking for a period of time before law enforcement found her and brought her home.
“There’s a lot of people, after time goes by, it dies down and, you know, it kind of gets by the wayside and we never want to let that go, and so any chance we get to come together and to speak of these things, we want to get that out to the public," Simpson said.
“We just come out here to support and give our support to little Taylor," Dwight Johnson said.
Johnson knows firsthand what it’s like to have a family member go missing. His cousin, Whitney Sanders, never came home after leaving a Northside restaurant in 2013.
“It’s just a feeling that you can’t get over, and we love her very much," Johnson said. “It just hurt us, you know, they never found her. We don’t know which way she went or whatever, but she never was found.”
One mom at the vigil lost her teenage son to gun violence. She said Taylor lived less than a mile from her home. She helped search for the little girl when she was first reported missing.
“Every day, I yearn for my son," Natasha Hobbs said. “The pain never goes away, and I try to honor my son and serve him justice through the work that I do for him, and that’s being out in the community and embracing other hurting families and just try to be that beacon of light, that hope to bring the community together.”
At the vigil, people filled bins for Toys for Tots, which Saturday night was being called Toys for Taylor.
One girl donated one of her own stuffed animals.
“I brought it for Taylor because I think when she goes to heaven that she needs some toys," Kimani Bentley said.
If you want to help the group, you can make a donation here.
Key events in the search for Taylor
On the morning of Nov. 6, Brianna Williams called the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to report her daughter missing from her Ivy Street home. Volunteers and officers began searching the area for Taylor, but some Brentwood neighbors told News4Jax that they never saw a child living at the house. An Amber Alert was issued before noon and later in the day, the search extended to a Southside apartment complex where Williams used to live.
Sheriff Mike Williams said that while family members have been cooperating, Brianna Williams stopped cooperating Nov. 7. The sheriff later named Brianna Williams a person of interest in Taylor’s disappearance.
On Nov. 11, the search for Taylor extended even further, with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Urban Search and Rescue Team and JSO homicide and missing persons detectives traveling to the Demopolis area of Alabama, where her mother is from and has friends, and her hometown of Linden, Alabama.
Investigators announced on Nov. 12 that human remains had been found in a wooded area in western Alabama during the search for Taylor Rose Williams. Sheriff Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson said the remains are believed to be those of Taylor.
The Sheriff’s Office is awaiting positive identification of the remains found on County Road 44 off Highway 28 in Marengo County, Alabama, until forensics tests are completed, according to the Demopolis Police Department.
Soon after the remains were uncovered, News4Jax learned Brianna Williams had been hospitalized. Brianna Williams was flown Tuesday to UF Health hospital in downtown Jacksonville after a suicide attempt at NAS Jacksonville, police said. The sheriff announced Tuesday that Brianna Williams had been charged with child neglect and giving false information in the investigation into Taylor’s disappearance.
On Thursday, News4Jax learned Brianna Williams was out of the hospital and had been booked into the Duval County jail. News4Jax has confirmed she will be defended by Alan Chipperfield, who is director of the homicide unit of the Public Defender’s Office and who has defended several people in previous high-profile cases.