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Members of area churches gathered at the Courthouse Green on Saturday morning to pray for school girls kidnapped in Nigeria.

25 gather locally to pray for kidnapped girls

As many American families celebrated Mother’s Day weekend, about 25 people gathered on the Allen County Courthouse Green on Saturday morning to send songs and prayers to hundreds of mothers and daughters overseas who tragedy has torn apart.

Janet Mitchell, a member of Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, organized a prayer vigil at 10 a.m. Saturday for people of all faiths to come together and pray for the plight of more than 300 schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria by Islamists extremists last month.

The girls were abducted in mid-April at their secondary school in the town of Chibok by the Boko Haram extremist group, and 276 remained in captivity on Saturday morning.

The girls were kidnapped for pursing an education and being Christians, Mitchell said, noting that many of those kidnapped were members of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. She first got the idea to host the prayer vigil with a fellow member of her church, Karen Beatty-Allen, when the two women heard about a similar vigil in Goshen.

“We all hope to turn international attention on the plight of these girls before more die,” Mitchell said. “We want to draw attention to it and not just turn the page.”

Since the girls were abducted, news of the tragedy has attracted international attention on social media outlets like Twitter where hashtags, such as #BringBackOurGirls, have helped spread the word. More than 2.1 million tweets using #BringBackOurGirls were posted as of Saturday morning, according to the Twitter analytics site Topsy. And national figures, such as Michelle Obama, helped spread the word on Saturday when the first lady criticized the kidnapping as an “unconscionable act” made by “grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls."

On the Allen County Courthouse Green, it was a quieter time of remembrance. Mitchell and other members of area churches lit a candle and paid tribute to the kidnapped girls by tying red ribbons on 12 leis necklaces, reading Bible verses and singing songs.

“Do not be afraid; Our love is stronger than your fear,” the men and women sang, as the youngest attendee, Maya Koczan-Flory, 3, drew two hearts on the sidewalk for two of the girls who have died.

Kirsten Smith of Fort Wayne and her husband Aaron Smith were among those in attendance. Kristen Smith said she is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fort Wayne, and she wanted to support the Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren’s initiative for peace.

“I think raising consciousness is the biggest thing,” Smith said. “In a prayerful way, we can let these young girls and families know they are cared about.”

Members of local chapter of the NAACP were also in attendance as part of their month-long initiative to “Stand for Justice” and “Stop the Violence,” according to NAACP Chapter President Saharra Bledsoe.

Bledsoe was on day 7 of a 40-day fast for the initiative on Saturday morning, and she said the NCAAP is inviting the public to join them for justice events every weekend during May. On Sunday afternoon the NCAAP youth group is gathering in Memorial Park to write letters to the kidnapped girls and their families, said Marsha Brooks, who is organizing the event.

Brooks is a member of the NAACP and the chapter leader for President Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action campaign in Fort Wayne. She hopes the event will help locals get involved with an international cause that matters to mothers on Mother’s Day.

“I’m a mother, so anytime you have a mother and her child is missing, it’s a tragedy everywhere,” Brooks said. “The pain transcends boarders.”