More than 300 people are gathered to mourn Brooke Bennett
RANDOLPH, Vt. (AP) _ About 300 people gathered Wednesday night to mourn the death of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett, whose body was found near her uncle's home a week after she had disappeared.
The gathering was originally organized as a candlelight vigil for Brooke's safe return. Authorities found her dead about 4:45 p.m.
"Brooke Marie, I love you so much," her mother, Cassandra Gagnon, said at the event at the town gazebo. A large photo of Brooke was on display. "I just ask that justice be done for the person who took my baby away," she said, sobbing.
She thanked the crowd for attending. "I ask for continued support because this has just begun for me," Gagnon said.
Brooke's father, James Bennett, added, "I know Brooke knows that we love her and will always love her."
Brooke was last seen alive with her uncle, Michael Jacques, at a convenience store a week ago. He's been in custody since Sunday on charges of aggravated sexual assault against a different underage girl. He has pleaded not guilty. Police said he would be charged in federal court with kidnapping.
In an affidavit unsealed earlier in federal court, the FBI said an unidentified teenager told investigators she was present on June 25 when Jacques tricked Brooke into thinking she was going to a party and took her to his home to be initiated into a sex ring.
Brooke's former stepfather, Raymond Gagnon, has been charged with obstruction of justice.
At the gathering, people hugged each other around the town gazebo, lit candles and sang "Amazing Grace."
"We must realize in our community, oh God, that we are not this horrible act, that this horrible act happened to this community," said the Rev. Robin Junker, associate pastor of the Bethany United Church of Christ in Randolph. "
Teachers and schoolmates from Randolph Union High School, where Brooke had just finished seventh grade, showed their support.
"I loved having her in my classroom," said Gary Finch, Brooke's homeroom and math teacher.
He said she was a very energetic and enthusiastic learner. "She was always volunteering, always with a smile on her face. Smart, creative. It's a tragedy. It's unbelievable. It's hard to comprehend. I didn't think anything like this would happen to such a great kid."
Finch said at the start of the school year, Brooke was nervous about transferring from her small elementary school to the high school.
"She conquered that," he said. "She didn't conquer this."
Others who came said they didn't know Brooke well, but they wanted to be there for her all the same.
"If you were sad, she'd make you happy," said Ali Winot, 15.
Brianna McKay 14, who played basketball with Brooke, remembered that she was always laughing.
Jody Neff, 61, said she didn't know Brooke, but she was there for her family to say a prayer.