They came on a cold, dark December night to mourn 5-year-old Christan Johnson, his big extended family and family friends too.
Dozens gathered Wednesday outside the family's East Anchorage apartment for a vigil of support. They sang and prayed, hugged and sobbed as they leaned into one another, remembering what no one wants to remember but also the goodness of him.
He was a kindergartner at Tyson Elementary School. He loved cars and baking cakes with his mother, some friends said. He was so loving and sweet that he seemed different from other children, said Lydia Quinn, his mother's cousin. She led the crowd in prayers seeking strength for the parents and grandparents, aunties and uncles.
"Yes Lord," she prayed as the family prayed with her. "The baby — we know you got him."
Early Tuesday, the boy found a loaded pistol in his parents' nightstand and fatally shot himself with it.
Parents held infants in blankets and hugged small children clutching red balloons. Friends and family wrote messages on some balloons and his nickname, "Pablo." In the dark, tears were lit by candlelight.
His parents huddled with close family. His mother, Jualisa House, thanked everyone for coming.
"It showed us how loved he was and how much of an impact he had on a lot of lives," she said later in a text message. Christan's father, Anthony Johnnson, released from jail earlier in the day on a charge of being a felon in possession of gun, stayed quiet.
"Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world," the crowd sang, voices breaking and trailing off, then picking up again. "Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight."
Mariah Haynes, who became friends with House when they were both students at Bartlett High, said she came to show her love for Christan.
Then they counted, 1-2-3. The balloons drifted free.
"We love you baby. We love you so much," someone choked out through tears.
"Bye Christan!" one child said, then another, then another.
In almost an instant, the balloons disappeared against the dark of night.