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At vigil for those killed in Joliet mass shooting, family remembered for love and laughter

Dozens of people gathered Sunday afternoon in Joliet for a vigil after one man killed eight people, including seven of his relatives, in a string of shootings last weekend.

Police say suspect Romeo Nance killed his mother, aunt, uncle and siblings at two homes Jan. 21 before shooting another man in a random attack. Nance, 23, fled the city before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a confrontation with U.S. Marshals in Texas.

Friends and family surrounded the driveway Sunday of one of the homes on the 2200 block of West Acres Road. A collage of the victims leaned against the porch, which was lined with a dozen glass candles. A floral sign hung from the front door: “Family is forever.”

The Will County coroner’s office and police identified the relatives killed by Nance as his mother, Tameka Nance, 47; his aunt, Christine Esters, 38; his uncle, William Esters II, 35; his brother, Joshua Nance, 31; his sister, Alexandria Nance, 20; as well his 16- and 14-year-old sisters, who were not named. Officials have offered no motive for the shooting.

The man Nance later killed Jan. 21 at Pheasant Run Apartments in unincorporated Joliet was identified as 28-year-old Toyosi Bakare, originally from Nigeria. Nance also shot a 42-year-old in the leg that day, who police said sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Nance’s girlfriend has been charged with obstructing justice in the investigation of the massacre.

“It is joyous and it is comforting to know that they are loved, and that so many people remember their names and let their legacy live on,” Cara Esters, the sister of Christine and William Esters, tearfully told the crowd. “We are confident that, together, we will find a way to get through this.”

After Cara Esters spoke, the crowd released a sea of black and white balloons into the air. Latisha Fox, who described herself as a longtime friend of the family, read the names of the victims as the balloons flew into the sky. Several people sobbed as gospel music played.

“If you don’t know them, we want you to know how great, amazing they were,” Fox said. “They were loving people, and a loving, loving family.”

Cara Esters described her family’s contributions to the community. William Esters had started his own security firm; Christine Esters worked with the Illinois Department of Corrections and Tameka Nance was a dedicated nurse. Her three nieces were actively involved in wresting, volleyball, and track and field.

Pastor Kenneth Coleman led the crowd in prayer, encouraging mourners to hold each other’s hands.

“This was a great loss to all of us,” Coleman said. “We lost some great people in this tragedy. But out of this, we’re learning to love each other even more.”

Several people, many wiping tears from their eyes, formed a line behind the porch after the vigil to pay respects.

“My family was, and is, and forever will be about love and laughter,” Cara Esters said. “We will forever remember their names, and shout it from the rooftops.”

When asked if she had any remaining family after the killings, Cara Esters told reporters, “We are small but mighty.”

Spurred by what she said was an overwhelming outpouring of support from the community, Cara Esters created a GoFundMe page Sunday afternoon to help ease the family’s financial burden. As of Sunday evening, the fundraiser had received approximately $3,500 in donations out of their $50,000 goal.

“As we traverse this challenging time, it brings us some comfort to witness how loved our family members are,” the Esters and Nance family said in a statement Sunday. “But we are confident that we will find the strength to get through this together. We know their lights, legacies, and enormous personalities will live on in our hearts, photos, and memories,”

Chicago Tribune’s Adriana Pérez contributed.

karmanini@chicagotribune.com