A small United Church of Christ congregation in Cleveland hosted a vigil Monday night for a young mother tragically killed by a carjacker in front of her family.
More than a hundred people crowded into the sanctuary at Archwood United Church of Christ on Nov. 19, gathering to remember 33-year old Lesley DeJesus and offer comfort to her husband and two children. The DeJesus family was at Archwood last Thursday afternoon, working as volunteers of the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center. The couple was inside doing some painting, preparing the fellowship hall for their daughter's quinceañera, when they saw two men attempting to steal the family's minivan. When the pair ran out of the church to intervene, Lesley was struck by the vehicle in the struggle. The driver then ran her over as he fled the church parking lot. She died at the scene.
"In losing Lesley, we lost a member of our church's extended family," said Archwood UCC member Hans Holznagel. "She volunteered with our amazing tenant, the Julia de Burgos Center, which does wonderful work with young people from many cultures."
No congregants were present at the time of DeJesus' death, but two members of the Archwood Governing Body immediately met with leaders of the Latin cultural center to express condolences and offer support. The Cleveland congregation centered Sunday worship on the DeJesus family and friends, and opened its sanctuary Monday to the neighborhood in solace and hospitality.
"Our sermon and prayer time Sunday focused on this tragedy – on grieving with the survivors of a crime that happened in our own parking lot and on violence in today's world," Holtznagel said. "On Monday, it was deeply moving to have the community fill our sanctuary with candlelight and surround Lesley's husband and children with love and support in their time of mourning."
Cleveland police are still searching for the two thieves who hotwired family's minivan, and abandoned it after their getaway a few blocks away. A $5,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to an arrest. Funeral services for DeJesus will be held on Friday.
Said Archwood Moderator Judy Schumann, "We pray for the family of the deceased, for Julia de Burgos staff and participants, and for all involved in this heartbreaking crime."