WATERVILLE — Candles burned as symbols of hope Wednesday night at a vigil for missing toddler Ayla Reynolds.

David E. Anderman, senior minister at First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, on Eustis Parkway where the vigil was held, said raising the light of hope is part of the process of dealing with such an event.

“Many of us in a couple of days will be lighting candles at Christmas Eve services and it’s a joyous occasion for us,” Anderman said. “There will be mixed feelings this year with the association to this. We hold out the symbol of hope tonight.”

The vigil was attended by close to 100 people, many of them moms and dads who showed up with their small children.

Amy Joseph, of Waterville, her three children in tow, said she attended the vigil to show support for the toddler and her family.

Joseph said her children are aware of what’s going on.

“They know that Ayla’s been missing and we’ve been praying for her every day and they wanted to help somehow and this is our way to help,” Joseph, 27, said. “It’s very emotional. I have a hard time just imagining it.”

Wednesday’s candlelight vigil, songs and moments of silence were organized by Mainely Moms & Dads founder and mother of two girls, Dana Bushee Hernandez. The organization was founded in 2007 as a support and social group for parents in the Waterville and Augusta areas.

Anderman opened the service with a piano rendition of “When Peace Like a River,” as a single candle burned in front of the altar, with a photo of Ayla, pictures drawn by children, candles, toys and a teddy bear. Christmas garland and a tree glowed in white lights.

Danielle Bartz, chaplain at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Waterville, lit one long candle and walked aisle by aisle, passing the light to candles held by the many in attendance.

The vigil also was dedicated in part to the many law enforcement officers, firefighters and volunteers who continued the search for the 20-month-old who was last seen in her bed Friday night.

“For the last four days I have had the privilege of watching anywhere from 25 to 75 law enforcement people working day and night on this case,” Waterville City Manager Mike Roy told the assembly. “And I can tell you that they are working just as hard as if it were their own child. I’ve seen it their faces.

“I just want everyone here to know how impressed I am at how dedicated they are and how confident I am that they’ll find Ayla and that justice will be done.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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