Roanoke pastors rail against gun violence at Melrose Park event

Published: Jul. 26, 2019 at 11:32 PM EDT
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When Robert Wormley joined the crowds in Melrose Park Friday night, he didn’t do it to for himself. He did it for Joyce.

"Oh man she was bright man," said Wormley. "Always smiling, always laughing."

Joyce Payne, Wormley's sister, was murdered in Roanoke in 2011. The killer was never found.

The pain from that event, and others like it, brought dozens of people to Melrose Park for Roanoke Prays, a vigil honoring those lost to gun violence, and pushing for change.

Of the dozens who gathered to hear both city leaders and pastors speak, many knew the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence.

"Tonight we want every case solved. We want every murderer convicted. We want every criminal to understand you can’t get away with robbing our city of our young men and women," said Bishop Jamaal Jackson, one of the pastors who spoke to the crowd. Jackson was close with Salonya Evans, the 24-year-old who was murdered in Southeast Roanoke Saturday.

"The Holy Spirit was in the place and people were excited," said Roanoke City Council member Trish White-Boyd. She helped organize the event.

White-Boyd says the goal tonight was simple: to get the community to come together and pray, and to end the culture of gun violence in the city.

"Things can change," she said. "And if we can change the heart and mind of one person to go and talk to the police and let me know what is happening, maybe we can get some justice on some of these unsolved cases."

But, said White-Boyd, the vigil wasn’t a complete success.

There were fewer young people than she’d hoped.

"Those are the people we really wanted to come, to let them know that there is hope. There is a God. They don’t have to kill each other like that," she said.

But those who came said they found the event uplifting. Some were moved to tears by the songs and prayers.

And for Robert Wormley, who’s been searching for justice for eight years, it felt like a step in the right direction.

"The only answer is everybody coming together," he said.