Three years ago, Antwan Toney graduated from the Gwinnett County Police Department’s police academy in a ceremony in the auditorium of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. His mother, Antoinette Page, pinned his badge to his chest.
Page and her daughter Carla Johnson returned to that auditorium Thursday night to light a candle in remembrance of Toney and the 42 other people who lost their lives to homicide or vehicular homicide in the past year.
“The holiday season is extremely hard, and this will be our first without Antwan,” Johnson said. “It’s comforting to be around individuals who have experienced the same hurt and who are helping us get through this.”
Toney, 30, was killed in the line of duty in October while responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle.
About 500 people packed the GJAC auditorium for the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Program’s Candlelight Vigil. The annual event began 17 years ago, with about 20 chairs set up outside of the district attorney’s office, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said.
“There’s one thing that’s important (about the event), and it’s not the message I give. It’s the message you give each other,” Porter said. “There is a way forward. … You’re not alone. There are people here who are willing to raise that hand and help you up.”
Johnson said her family is grateful for the support they have received from the Gwinnett County Police Department and the community.
“Anyone who has lost someone knows how important it is to have love and support from those around them,” she said.
Several Gwinnett County police officers attended the vigil. Gwinnett County Police Chief Butch Ayers said the event was emotional, but he and others in the department felt it was important to let Toney’s family know he was loved by the department.
“You hate to be part of this club,” he said, “but it’s important to come out and show our support.”
Jenene Craig attended the first vigil in 2001 to remember her late husband, Keith Woods. At that first event, her daughter Kristen read a poem and had to stand on a foot stool to reach the microphone.
Craig told attendees Thursday evening not to let the trauma of loss overshadow the love they have for those who were killed.
“We don’t look like each other, and we come from different places,” Craig said, “but we belong to each other — in a way we didn’t pick.”