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Saying goodbye brings sobs, hugs, candlelight and prayer

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:03 PM
SEBRING -

Flames from candles big and small danced in the darkness as a loud uproar rose from the crowd.

"We love you Aaron," people chanted, as they lifted up the lights, as though to heaven.

Sobs could be heard. People hugged each other tightly.

A candlelight and prayer vigil held Saturday evening for 20-year-old Aaron Doty, who was allegedly killed Sunday after a deadly fight at a party, drew hundreds who wanted to show solidarity for his family and celebrate his memory.

The mood may have been somber but the message was about forgiveness, faith and seeking comfort in the Lord.

"We will blow those candles out, but Aaron's legacy will live on forever," Grace Bible Church Executive Pastor Dustin Woods told the mourners as the hour-long ceremony concluded at Firemen's Field.

His uncle Kip Doty thanked everyone.

"Our family can't echo any of the words we are hearing tonight," he said. "Aaron believed in God. The smile you saw on his face every day was the joy in knowing the Lord."

Michelle Hammonds and her daughter and Sebring High School graduate Brittany Likens came to show support for Doty's family.

Earlier in the day they had attended his funeral, which packed in more than 1,000 people, and even visited the woods in Sun 'n Lake where his body was found.

Ordie, Nicki and Madisyn Griffis, family friends, came to show their respect. They remembered Aaron Doty's smile and hoped justice would be served.

More than 1,500 had RSVP'ed on Facebook they planned to attend the vigil. Nicki Griffis estimated more were actually present.

Grace Bible's youth leader Jason Robinson spoke of the tragedy that made Doty seek Christ two years ago, and how a new one had brought him to the podium Saturday.

Doty had been shaken by the death of Sebring High School student Marquis Hamilton, who had died from complications of swine flu in September 2010.

He sought out Robinson for spiritual counseling. A Christian, he once wrote on his MySpace page the person he would love to meet the most was Jesus. "Aaron (now) has the ability to be with Jesus for eternity," Robinson continued somberly.

Doty's religious reawakening was his legacy that should inspire everyone, Robinson intoned.

"From that tragedy, he got the opportunity to know who Christ was," Robinson said. "The circle of these tragic events has brought us here. I am not going to leave this place knowing that I had the opportunity to share Jesus with you.

"I thank everyone who is wearing 'Justice For Aaron' shirts. True justice comes when you can shake Aaron's hand in heaven and say to him 'What's up homie?'"

Many people were wearing the black "Justice For Aaron" shirts, which are being sold to raise money for Doty's funeral expenses. Others were wearing white memorial T-shirts and bracelets.

At least three groups have organized fundraisers to help the family, said Doty's friend and fellow Sebring High School graduate Ashley Potts.

Potts, who was wearing the white shirt, said someone had donated about 100 of them. Saturday, they were sold out at $10 a piece, and organizers were thrilled to give the family $1,000 in two days, but they wanted to keep going. Monday, they were going to order a new batch.

At the same booth, someone was selling the $3 "Justice For Aaron" bracelets. Saturday, a car wash was being planned.

Potts said they don't have a dollar amount they hope to collect.

"Anything we can do to help," she added.

Some of those gathered, like Potts, had known both Doty and Jonathan Ray Rodriguez, one of the two suspects charged with murder in his death.

Along with the 22-year-old, authorities have also charged Kenneth Felipe Jr., 19, with second-degree murder and tampering and abuse of a dead body. Authorities add the two set the body on fire to destroy evidence.

Potts was on the same Sebring High cheerleading squad as Doty and Rodriguez. She had spoken to Rodriguez about two weeks ago and he had mentioned how he was going to hang out with Doty.

"I don't know if he (Doty) had any real friends that night," she said, referring to the fatal party. "Someone would have done something." Authorities say no one called 911 or got medical help after witnesses reportedly saw Doty incapacitated after the fight. His body was found Monday afternoon, 24 hours after his family first reported him missing.

She was not the only one feeling betrayed.

Likens, who also went to school with those involved, said she was sickened by the incident. What amazes her even more, she said, is how people are now attending "remembrance parties" in Doty's memory.

"This is dumb," she said. "They should learn something from this and stay at home."

Kip Doty took the opportunity to remind people the next time they have a drink or need to get help for somebody, they should do the right thing.

"You can do it with a Christian heart, like Aaron had," he added.


pagarwal@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5831

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