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An emotional Mother’s Day for those who have lost children to violence

DonnHall mother Marshall Hall who was killed January age 21 cries during gathering for mothers who lost their children violence

Donna Hall, the mother of Marshall Hall, who was killed in January at the age of 21, cries during a gathering for mothers who lost their children to violence at Saint Sabina Church in Chicago, Ill., on Sunday, May 12, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 14, 2013 6:24AM

They dressed for church but stood outside the building instead, approaching an altar of an entirely different kind.

They stood wearing shirts bearing pictures of the children they have lost, holding white balloons with their sons’ names.

On Mother’s Day, what do you do if you have lost your child?

The Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina has hosted the mothers of those murdered in gun violence in recent years to mark this difficult day at the “You Are Not Forgotten Memorial Wall” outside his South Side church. In the months following Chicago’s rise to the top of the nation’s homicide statistics, more mothers joined the group and more pictures were posted on the wall.

More than 20 mothers joined hands Sunday morning and listened to each others’ stories of loss between prayers thanking God for the opportunity to have known the children they lost.

“If you lose your child, you never feel like doing anything” for Mother’s Day, said Clara Allen, mother to Dominique Willis, 21, who was shot in July 2007 as she sat in a car at 104th and Morgan streets.

Tanya Butler marked her second Mother’s Day at St. Sabina since her 20-year-old son, Darius Parish, was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 2011. Butler came alone because her daughter said the ceremony would be too painful.

“He was a joy of a child,” Butler said as tears streamed down her face. “It made being a mother just worth it, despite all the hard work.”

Like many of the mothers present, Butler said after the ceremony she would go to the cemetery to visit her son’s grave.

Two rose bushes a Florida farm grew in honor of Coretta Scott King were planted at either side of the wall, conveying the King family’s support to the mothers of the murdered, Pfleger said.

Traffic was stopped on South Racine Avenue as the mothers released their balloons.

Among those gathered was Angela Blakely, mother of Janay McFarlane, 18, who was killed on Feb. 15, just days after her sister stood behind President Barack Obama as he spoke about gun violence in Hyde Park.

Blakely planned to spend the day with her daughter’s son, Jayden, who was three months old when his mother was killed.

“I never knew pain until I got that call,” Blakely told the crowd. “Now I have to celebrate his first Mother’s Day without his mother.”

Later Sunday, just a few blocks from St. Sabina, two sons of other mothers were victims of violence. A 20-year-old man was fatally shot in the head and a 15-year-old boy was shot in his arm around 6:15 p.m. in the 1700 block of West 79th Street, Chicago Police said.

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