Holding on tight to one another, the parents of a 5-year-old boy who was recently killed by gang violence in Elgin watched the boy's grandmother tearfully kiss his photo.
A silent crowd of adults and children surrounded them.
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Denisse and Eric Galarza took turns Saturday in thanking those present for participating in an anti-gang violence march in honor of their son, Eric M. Galarza Jr., who was fatally shot Oct. 7.
About 50 adults and children set off from the parking lot of the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin on Dundee Avenue at 1 p.m. By the time they walked two miles to the Galarzas' home on Elma Avenue, the crowd had swelled to more than 100 people, including neighbors and onlookers.
Eric was in a car with his parents, aunt and younger siblings when he was shot as the car pulled out of the family's driveway. Miguel Hernandez Jr. of Aurora was charged with first-degree murder in the killing and is being held without bail. Authorities say he fired several shots, fatally hitting little Eric.
"No one should go through a pain like this," Eric Galarza said. "I'm always going to love my son."
March organizers Elias Juarez and Oscar Sanchez, both of Elgin, are former gang members who credit their faith with steering them toward a better path in life.
Sanchez said they are working on establishing a "Still Standing" outreach ministry to prevent children from joining gangs, and ultimately put a stop to gang-related violence.
Among the marchers was Elgin resident Grace Contreras, who pulled her 4-year-old son, Noah, in a wagon, while her 11-year-old daughter Delaney walked holding a sign with Eric's photo.
"We are here to make a difference, to try to stop the violence," Contreras said. "Eric was innocent."
Pastor Eddie Rivera of Christ Redeemer Christian Church in Elgin led the crowd into a minute of silence to remember Eric.
"Every minute that gangs are in charge of the streets, we are slaves to that violence," Rivera said, adding later, "We have made a choice to walk the street to show that we care."