(BCN) — They gathered together in Oakley Civic Center Plaza around the base of the city’s Christmas tree, its twinkling blue lights contrasting with the tiny flames of hundreds of candles held by friends and strangers who came to say goodbye to Alexis Gabe and show their support for the family and volunteers who spent months trying to bring her home.

They came to grieve, and to pray.

“It’s been a really, really hard year for us,” said Gwyn Gabe, Alexis’s father, as he looked out at the silent crowd. “Not just losing our daughter, our only daughter, but also losing my father in law, my wife’s father. It’s been really hard for us. But what gives us comfort is the love and support from this community. That’s what’s really holding us and we really, really thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you so much for coming here tonight to grieve with us, and pray with us.

“I’m pretty sure our daughter is up there smiling, watching us right now, and again we can’t really thank you enough,” he said.

Alexis was last seen alive on Jan. 26, the day she drove to the Antioch home of her ex-boyfriend, Marshall Jones. Her car was later found abandoned in Oakley. Police suspected Jones killed the 24-year-old Oakley woman and transported her body to the Sierra foothills, where her partial remains were eventually discovered in Amador County early last month along with duct tape and black plastic trash bags.

Jones was fatally shot by police in Kent, Washington, in June when they went to arrest him in connection with the killing. Even though police consider the case now closed, the Gabes can’t rest as they continue searching for Alexis’s remains and justice for the person who will no longer be part of their future Christmas holidays.

‘You all cared’

Mayor Sue Higgins, in what was likely her last public appearance as a member of the Oakley City Council before her replacement is sworn in, helped organize Friday’s vigil and spoke of the city’s support for the family.

“I said to the council, we have to put the money up to help find Alexis,” Higgins said of the initial $50,000 reward fund. That figure swelled to $100,000 after an anonymous donor matched the city’s contribution.

“But the story’s not over. It’s not ending here tonight. We want justice for what has happened, and we’re keeping the candle lit for Alexis to find her. She’s completely in our hearts. She’s brought us together, and I hope we stay that way.”

For some, like Alexis’s older brother Gwyn Marqus Gabe, Friday was the first time they had to collect their emotions in public.

“It’s been really hard,” Marqus said in a low, halting voice. “I haven’t shown my face in a while because I’m healing. She was my best friend and I miss her every day. You guys gave us so much strength to keep pushing forward. I can’t believe how big this group is.

“I know me and my older cousin would hear Alexis all the time talk about how she would hopefully say, you know, if she ever just ran away, no one would care, OK? I know some of us out here also thought that too. But what they don’t see once they’re gone is how much everyone does care.

“A lot of you don’t know her personally, but you all showed up. You all cared. When we see her I can’t wait to rub it in her face, you know? Like look at all these people who showed up. Hundreds of people, thousands of people on the page. Thank you so, so much.”

He was speaking about the Help Bring Alexis Gabe Home group on Facebook, which has amassed more than 16,600 followers sharing information and lending support to the family throughout their ordeal.

And one by one, many of those friends and supporters came forward to remember the person with the infectious smile who was always a friend to everyone. Customers of the local Rite Aid, where Alexis worked, recalling the first time they met her: “She treated me like family. She had the best smile, the best personality.”

A former high school friend said, “She just made you want to smile all the time. … Even if she didn’t know you, but knew that there was something going on, she put you first.”

Her flame burns brightly

During the event volunteers passed out frosted cookies shaped like angel wings, pink wristbands with the message “Never Forgotten — Bring Alexis Home,” and dozens of 5-inch candles the mourners held during the vigil — too short, it seemed, for several that burned themselves out before the end of the hour-long ceremony. But singed fingers and blades of grass paled compared to the pain in the hearts of those who came to grieve.

“I know a lot of you said you’ll never forget Alexis. We appreciate all that,” Gwyn Gabe said when the last of the tributes was expressed.

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The family is planning a celebration of life for Alexis on Jan. 28, 2023, at the Oakley Recreation Center, although space limitations likely will mean not all will be able to attend. The family thanked the city and Oakley Police Department for their efforts to organize Friday’s vigil and locate their missing daughter.

“We wanted [the service] to happen in Oakley because this is where we live. We’ve been living here for 10 years this month.”

Elvin Reyes and his wife Dorothy Reyes came from San Ramon to be part of the vigil. They have a special connection with the Gabe family — Elvin attended high school with Alexis’s father Gwyn and is the godparent to one of their sons.

“I think the community coming together was just awesome,” Elvin said as the candle flames extinguished and the crowd began to disperse into the night.

“It was uplifting,” Dorothy Reyes agreed. “We’re from another city, so coming here and seeing this was very nice.”

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