Two dozen residents walked back and forth along the Central Ashland Bike Path Thursday in a symbolic gesture intended to banish the fear they say has gripped Ashland since the murder of David Michael Grubbs on Nov. 19.
Participants smudged the murder site with sage incense and passed around petitions to light the secluded path. They prayed at the memorial of candles and flowers placed along the path and spoke in hushed tones of the sense of losing community and safety.
"Almost everyone I talk to says they came to Ashland for quality of life, and this incident is the biggest violation of it that I've felt in 13 years," said Brian Hilden, a member of the men's group that organized the solidarity walk to "reclaim" the bike path.
Grubbs, 23, was killed just after dark on Nov. 19 as he walked home from work at Shop'n Kart. Police say the murder, by "sharp-force trauma" of a long to medium blade, so far appears random, and they have called in a forensics expert to help break the case.
Organizer Jeff Feinberg read an American Indian prayer to the circled group and said he hoped the march "brings some love and light back to the place I love. I've felt fear like I've never felt in my life before."
Jana Carole said she has often walked the bike path alone and now it seems a "sad but sacred place of terrible loss. I came here to support the idea of returning the bike path to our community, and David would have wanted it that way."
Carole encouraged walkers, joggers and bikers to "continue to use the path but in the safety of groups."
Ken Decker, a member of the men's group, said the march was "a heartfelt response to support our community and to show up for ourselves and the community."
Many marchers, including Daric Lucero, mentioned the sense of loss of community.
"This is a small way I can contribute to honoring David and maintaining the feeling of community we lost when he was murdered," Lucero said.
Marcher Tony Crane said Ashland has taken on "a sense of uneasiness and a general lack of a feeling of safety. I've never been fearful here and now I find myself being careful."
Jana Alvord said, "I'm devastated by this. It's a terrible loss for Ashland and for his family. Although it's tragic, we need to not be afraid to continue our daily lives — and yet be smart about safety."
Cradling a baby and holding back tears, Jean Roorda said, "I'm here to support healing and honor David for his life and honor all who knew and loved him in their grieving and moving forward into the healing we are all undergoing."
Brittany Hamer, a friend of Grubbs, said she had gathered 788 signatures so far to place lighting along the length of the bike path.
The memorial of flowers, photos, notes and sage sits adjacent to the parking lot by the Hunter Park tennis courts.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.