Carolyn Butler bowed her head over a flickering candle and prayed again for her youngest son to come home.
For four weeks, she has waited for her 33-year-old son, Jeffrey Tooles, who vanished after work March 25. The last time she saw him was that morning, when he met herin the mail room of a downtown Annapolis office building to pick up some money.
More than 60 relatives, friends and neighbors joined her last night to pray for his safe return. They gathered at the Stanton Center on West Washington Street to light candles, hold hands and reassure her.
"Me and his daughter, every night we ask God to bring him back," Butler said, sitting with her family on folding chairs. She left Tooles' daughter, Danielle, at home because the 7-year-old has been tooupset by her father's disappearance.
Friends came up to express concern or just reach out and give Butler a hug. Her 71-year-old mother, Hazel Brooks, sat next to her and recalled the picnics the family shared.
"This has hurt me so much," she said softly.
Nicknamed "Flash," Tooles is an avid roller skater who liked to zip down to City Dock. He was popular in the close-knit Clay Street community. Neighbors said they miss his big smile.
"He's very friendly, and he knows a lot of people here," said the Rev. Hulan Marshall, who went to Annapolis High School with Tooles and led the prayer at last night's vigil.
Marshall, who runs Second Chance Ministry, a program for disadvantaged children, said he often saw Tooles on his afternoon rounds. For five years, Tooles delivered mail for the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services on West Street.
Six weeks ago, he moved in with his mother and stepfather, Joseph Butler, on Glenwood Street, to be closer to his daughter. He usually came straight home afterwork, his mother said. If he planned to stay out with friends, he would always call.
His disappearance has brought the community out in force. Zastrow Simms, who works with teen-agers in the neighborhood, has posted hundreds of fliers and helped form search parties. So far, neither they nor police have found any trace of the missing man.
Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, brought Carolyn Butler on stagefor a moving tribute by the crowd. Holding hands, her neighbors chanted after Snowden: "Carolyn Butler, we love you. We pray for Jeffrey's safe return. He is your son and our brother."
Many in the audience began to cry with her. Snowden said the community is at a crossroads.
"The solution," he said, "is to turn toward one another, not on one another. The solution is to hold hands."