LOWELL — Dozens gathered Thursday evening at a roadside memorial on Varnum Avenue as residents mourned the loss of Harry Kkonde, the 3-year-old boy whose body was found in a pond after a massive search of the neighborhood where he was last seen alive.
Family, friends, and neighbors began the vigil with a short walk to the pond where Harry’s body was found, carrying candles to the water.
The Reverend Amos Kimera, rector of Saint Peter’s Anglican Church of Uganda in Belmont, said prayers for Harry and his family, as the boy’s parents stood beside him and a loved one comforted his mother.
Kimera spoke again as the vigil ended, after mourners carried candles back to the memorial on Varnum Avenue, offering a message of hope.
“These lights: may they be a reminder to each one of us, that even in darkness, there is still light,” Kimera said. “To Sam and Harriet and the rest of his family, there is still light.”
The boy’s father expressed his appreciation to the crowd for their support.
“I want to thank everyone out here today,” he said, his voice wracked with sorrow.
A woman told the family, “I am a mother. … I am so sorry.”
Maureen Kalemba, a relative, said the loss of little Harry was “gut-wrenching.” He was just a helpless child, she said, deeply attached to his mother, always hugging and kissing her.
“He felt love,” she said.
Another candlelight vigil is planned to be held Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Lowell City Hall, according to a Facebook post. As of Thursday, more than 700 people expressed interest in attending the event.
A GoFundMe page has been created to raise money for the boy’s funeral expenses.
“Harry’s family will appreciate any help you can provide,” the page states.
Ahead of the gathering, neighbors were still shaken by the news that a little boy had disappeared in their midst and died.
Maurice Brouillard, 72, lives on Varnum Avenue and walks around that pond regularly. He had been holding out hope until the very end. He said police searched his home, and other houses in the neighborhood, when they were looking for Harry.
“They went to every room in this house, looked under every bed, to look to see if he was in here,” Brouillard said.
Standing on his front steps Thursday afternoon, Brouillard began to tear up as he talked about how the search for Harry came to a tragic end.
“I walked around the pond Tuesday and then I walked around the pond yesterday morning, all around, to see if I could see something, because he was still missing,” he said.
But he didn’t see anything.
“When they said that he was found, I felt like there was a weight on my chest,” he said.
Kkonde went missing Tuesday morning from the backyard of his babysitter’s home on Freda Lane in the city’s Pawtucketville neighborhood. He had gotten dropped off there around 7 a.m. and was last seen in the backyard at 9:15 a.m. by a neighbor, authorities said. He was reported missing to Lowell police at 9:30 a.m., which sparked the massive search by police and residents.
Harry’s body was discovered Wednesday shortly after 1 p.m. in a pond on a Christmas tree farm on Varnum Avenue. His body was close to shore in 5 feet of water, and about 650 feet away from his babysitter’s backyard where he was last seen alive, officials said.
Divers had previously searched the pond Tuesday morning, shortly after he went missing, but did not locate him at that time.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said investigators did not know how he ended up at the pond, and that he was likely “on the move” during some of the time he was missing. Investigators have shifted their focus from “finding him to finding out what happened,” she said.
“Even though the pond is located on a straight line from the house, we don’t know where he went, or where he may have traveled, or what time he might arrived back by that pond there,” she said. “We just don’t know that.”
Globe correspondents Alexander Thompson and Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.