Community unites at service for missing girl April Jones
A Welsh community came together in prayer this morning in an emotionally charged service in honour of missing April Jones.
A procession of up to 1,000 people walked slowly through the town of Machynlleth, as normal life came to a standstill.
Hundreds gathered at the Bryn-y-Gog estate from where April was abducted on Monday evening.
With crowds wearing pink ribbons symbolising the faith many still have that the girl remains alive, the procession moved in subdued silence through the town.
Roads along the route were closed off as the sombre gathering inched its way slowly to St Peter’s Church at the heart of the mid Wales market town.
The five-year-old schoolgirl’s abduction has shaken the small mid Wales community to the core.
The service today is seen as the start of a process aimed at healing the community.
Speaking before today’s ceremony, Reverend Kathleen Rogers said: “The realisation is coming on since yesterday when we heard murder - that has hit home.”
Inside the church, Reverend Rogers addressed the congregation, as she offered prayers for April’s parents Coral (40) and Paul (44) who did not attend the ceremony.
She said: “We cannot bring little April, our sweet and innocent little girl, home as we had hoped.”
“But our hope has now been moved on to sure and certain hope that she is in the arms of Jesus.
“Coral and Paul may not be with us this morning but we hold them very close in our hearts as we pray for them.
“There are hundreds of people today searching our town, our countryside, our river. Many hundreds more have been searching this last week.
“We thank them and we pray for them as they came to us in our hour of need and they continue to be with us.”
Reverend Rogers said that a service had also been held for the search workers at the local leisure centre this morning.
He then read a touching poem on behalf of April’s mother called “Mum”.
Bishop of Bangor, Reverend Andy John, said the tight-knit community had “touched the heart of people around the world”.
He said emails had been received from as far afield as South Africa and New Zealand - and a church in Texas had even made a donation.
Reverend John extended his thanks to those who had helped including the “extraordinary effort” of mountain rescue teams.
“I want to thank the police for their professional dedication and we’re glad that they’re here for us,” he added.
He said members of the media have also shown their “deeply caring” side and he thanked them for telling the story of the town.
“That story today is encapsulated in this service,” he said.
A young boy and girl carried a pink candle deemed “April’s candle” and the “Book of Hope” to the altar, which was then blessed by Reverend John.
The service ended with the hymn All Things Bright And Beautiful while a CD called Hope, which was compiled especially for April, was played as the congregation left the church.
April, who has cerebral palsy, was playing out late on her bicycle as a treat for a glowing school report when she disappeared on Monday evening.
Former lifeguard Mark Bridger (46) was charged yesterday with the abduction and murder of April.
Local man Mr Bridger is also accused of perverting the course of justice and will appear before Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court tomorrow.
The five-year-old remains missing despite an intensive, ongoing search. Exhaustive efforts to find any sign of April continue unabated.
Superintendent Ian John said that, following the murder and abduction charge, the nature of the operation will change.
He said: “It’s fair to say that we’ll see a scaling back of the mountain rescue effort.
“But a doubling of the effort really within the police element, we’ve got 10 teams here today.
“If we don’t find April today we’ve got 18 teams coming tomorrow and continue that search with the same momentum and the same element of rigour that we’ve had since day one.”
Mr John renewed his appeal for “any scrap of information” about the whereabouts of the missing girl.
Mayor of Machynlleth Gareth Jones said it had been an “extremely difficult” week and it was important to give support to those grieving.
“It’s extremely important that there’s support in place for everybody, obviously April and her family and the general community at large as well,” Mr Jones said.
“There’s still hope for April.”
Simon Woodhead, from Mountain Rescue England and Wales, said search workers will step down this evening.
“We’ve now reached a point where we’ve exhausted the search of areas best suited to our skills given what we currently know,” Mr Woodhead said.
“The tasks now being generated are suited more to specially trained police teams.
“As such Mountain Rescue operations will be suspended this evening.”
He said Mountain Rescue workers would remain on hand and assist police if they need them.
Mountain Rescue workers have contributed 9,250 man-hours to the search for April, Mr Woodhead said. The service is made up of teams that are funded by donations.