BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- Carrying white flowers and a small plastic candles, families who have lost children slowly made their way down to the Angel of Hope.
It's a yearly tradition for the Belleville Parks and Recreation department, one that takes place at 7 p.m. every Dec. 6 at Bellevue Park. Each year, families make their way down to the Angel of Hope statue to lay down flowers and say a prayer for their late children.
Belleville was the 10th city in the United States to build an Angel of Hope statue, and more than 100 cities have followed suit. The statue sits just downhill from the Bellevue Stone Lodge, facing the lake. Children's names are inscribed on a wall behind the statue and on many of the bricks surrounding its base.
Prior to the candlelit walk to the statue, several people spoke to or said a prayer for the families. Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert joined the families, and although he has never lost a child of his own, he said he fears for his oldest son's life each time he is deployed overseas as a trauma surgeon for the Army.
"This is a tribute to children and loved ones, and it's turned into a very special place," Eckert said. "Tonight, I know a lot of memories are stirred ... I extend my thoughts to all of you for your serious and sometimes tough memories."
The Angel of Hope statue was inspired by Richard Paul Evan's book, "The Christmas Box," where a woman mourns the loss of her child at the foot of an angel statue.
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