ST. PETERSBURG — Gil Mulrooney stepped to the middle of the gazebo at Seminole Park and gripped a white candle.
He had something important to say, but it had taken 27 years — the amount of time that has gone by since his older sister was abducted and murdered by a man in New York — to get it out.
"It was a totally random crime, just like this," Mulrooney told a crowd of about 100 gathered at a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of a shocking double homicide in the popular Historic Kenwood neighborhood. "The bubble can burst at any time. … But you have to (believe) that you will get through this."
On Tuesday, that's what friends and family of Bruce Johnson and Arthur Regula, the two men found dead Sept. 30 in a torched house at 2635 Fourth Ave. N, tried to do.
It wasn't easy.
Police said the pair, who were working on renovations at the home, were killed by 36-year-old Michael Scott Norris, who had escaped from a Largo work-release facility that morning.
Authorities think Norris, who was convicted of dozens of burglary charges, made his way to St. Petersburg and stole a gun from a motel room, then broke into the Kenwood home where he shot the men and set fire to the house to cover his crime. Norris was arrested late last week.
Children in the neighborhood saw the smoke and alerted their parents. Many in the neighborhood watched as the home burned. They found out later there were two victims inside.
Police have not established any connection between Norris and the men.
"One of the things that I really felt was that in the week of the tragedy, the community was so affected," said Jim Nixon, 47, a resident of the neighborhood. "People tend to define a community by a violent act. Yet the community is truly defined by how they react."
During the vigil, neighbors held a moment of silence for the men, they sang Amazing Grace, and they shared stories.
Regula, a 36-year-old tile tradesman who lived in Hudson, was looking forward to voting in his first election next month, friends said. He had grown up in Poland and became a U.S. citizen just a few years ago.
Johnson, a 51-year-old interior designer, was always the one people turned to for comfort, those who knew him said. He was a volunteer at Suncoast Hospice. He also was the best friend of the owner of the home where he was killed.
Mitch Harrison was not at home at the time of the fire. He had left to run an errand and returned to find his house — and friends — gone.
Harrison, who moved to the neighborhood a couple of years ago from out of state, said the outpouring of the community has been "massive." He also vowed to rebuild his home — in the same spot.
"It's because of you that I feel even more safe," he told the crowd. "I'm coming back. I'm not being scared."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.