AUBURN — Jason McFarland had a lot to say Thursday night about the loss of his youngest son. But when it came to thanking the people who had rallied around his family during the ordeal, McFarland didn’t mince words.

“You community members are amazing,” he said. “You stepped up. Thank you is not enough. A big hug is not enough.”

McFarland stood on the footbridge near Bonney Park, his 9-year-old daughter under one arm, his 10-year-old son under the other. His wife stood next to him, weeping. Before the family, more than 100 well-wishers jammed the bridge, many also weeping.

One month after 5-year-old Valerio McFarland drowned in the Androscoggin River, a memorial service was held to celebrate the boy’s life and, perhaps, to bring about a sense of finality for those who grieved his loss.

“I feel like we need closure, too,” said Renee Linsday, who for weeks had helped search for Valerio before his body was found on May 15. “But it’s not going to be an overnight process for anyone.”

The Thursday night service was a lot like the vigil that had taken place on the foot bridge weeks before. Men, women and children from across the area brought balloons, stuffed animals, plastic dinosaurs and candles. They wore “TeamValerio” shirts and carried photos of the drowned boy.

As it has been since the beginning, the community has been there for Jason McFarland and Helena Gagliano-McFarland.

Jason McFarland, reads a poem during Thursday night’s vigil on the walking bridge by Bonney Park in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“We’re behind them,” said Rina Thibeault of Auburn. “We’re here for them.”

“I hope,” said Samantha Nichols, “that it will help bring them some peace.”

Standing near the center of the foot bridge, Jason McFarland talked about the son he had lost. He was dazed by the reality that the boy was gone, he said. But he also marveled at the affect Valerio had on the Lewiston-Auburn community.

“He was an amazing young man – a sweet and precious young man,” McFarland said. “I can see the love that this community shares. That one little man brought all of us together.”

The family read a few short passages from the Bible. Gagliano-McFarland read a poem and McFarland read his son’s obituary. Throughout the service, several people on the foot bridge wept.

The memorial helped bring the sad affair to a close, they said, but it was also a grim reminder of those difficult days before Valerio’s body was found.

“The waiting,” said Luane Roeger of Auburn, “was terrible.”

“If you weren’t working or sleeping, you were out here doing something to help the search,” Linsday said.

“It’s all we could think about,” Thibeault added.

On April 24, Valerio was playing with his 10-year-old brother, Maxim, at Bonney Park, near the home into which the family had moved days before. When Valerio fell into the river, Maxim was the first to jump in to try to save him, according to the family. The boys’ sister, Giada, and father quickly followed.

Jason and Giada made it back to shore, while the brothers were swept away by the river’s powerful current. Rescuers were able to pull Maxim from the water, but Valerio was not seen again until his body was recovered weeks later about 5 miles downriver.

The drowning galvanized the community and, while many saw the gathering Thursday night as the end of sorts, Helena Gagliano-McFarland said she hopes it is also the beginning of something.

“My son died because there was not a safety device here that could have saved him,” she said.

Wiping tears from her eyes, Helena said her family is not asking that the river be fenced off because that option is not realistic. Rather, the family hopes to see a buoy system set up so that attempts could be made from shore to rescue a person who has fallen into the river.

Helena, her voice rising in anger, said she rankled every time she heard someone suggest there are not enough accidents or mishaps along the river to warrant such a measure.

“How many more people have to die?” she said. “Does one life not matter? Is that not enough?”

Before the service ended, the McFarland family walked solemnly to an observation deck overlooking the river. Pulled close together, the four stood for several minutes as the Androscoggin rushed below them.

Robin Schmidt, a close friend, wondered how the family will cope when all of the supporters, well-wishers and new friends have gone away.

“They have to move forward with their lives,” she said. “It’s going to get harder now.”