BURLINGTON, Vt. – The big banners with red lettering, "Come Home, Brooke, We Love You!!" were up long before a planned candlelight vigil for the 12-year-old missing for a week.
But instead of saying prayers for Brooke Bennett's safe return, the 300 people at the Wednesday night gathering found themselves mourning the news that her body had been found a few hours earlier.
Brooke, who had just finished seventh grade at Randolph Union High School, disappeared on June 25 after being seen at a convenience store with her uncle, Michael Jacques.
As state police announced the grim news Wednesday evening, they said Jacques will face federal kidnapping charges.
Jacques, 42, has been in custody since Sunday on charges of aggravated sexual assault against a different underage girl. He has pleaded not guilty.
A press conference was planned for 10 a.m. EDT Thursday.
Click here for photos.
"Brooke Marie, I love you so much," her mother, Cassandra Gagnon, said near a large photo of Brooke on the town gazebo in the picturesque town of just over 5,000. "I just ask that justice be done for the person who took my baby away," she said, sobbing.
Jacques is married to Cassandra Gagnon's sister.
After searching in and around Jacques' home across town for days, police said they found the girl's body in a spot where the earth had been disturbed about a mile from the home.
"The painful discovery of Brooke's body today is tragic and heartbreaking," State Police Director Col. James Baker said. He called the death "clearly suspicious" but declined to give details before a planned briefing Thursday morning.
But in an affidavit unsealed earlier Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Burlington, the FBI said a teenager they identified as "Juvenile 1" told investigators she accompanied Jacques on June 25 as he tricked his niece into thinking she was going to a party and took her to his home to be initiated that day into a sex ring.
The girl said she was led to believe Brooke "would have sex with adult males" during the initiation, and that she herself had been forced into the ring.
In another blow to the family and town, Brooke's former stepfather, Raymond Gagnon, 40, of San Antonio, Texas, was formally charged Wednesday with obstructing justice in the case. He entered no plea at the federal hearing and was denied bail pending another hearing on Monday.
Lawyer John Pacht argued unsuccessfully that Gagnon cooperated with authorities who questioned him in Texas and should be released.
Police say that during their investigation, Jacques led them to a posting on the MySpace social networking site in which Brooke firmed up a planned rendezvous the next morning with someone whose online name was "Skittelmeup."
But forensic analysis showed the posting and reposting soon afterward came from a laptop that Jacques said belonged to his employer, Thermadyne, in Lebanon, N.H., according to the affidavit.
It said Gagnon told authorities he accessed the account, using login information from Jacques, from his laptop in San Antonio the night Brooke disappeared, and that he had downloaded child pornography onto the laptop, which police have not recovered.
Gary Finch, Brooke's homeroom and math teacher last year, spoke at the vigil. He said she was an energetic and enthusiastic learner whom he loved having in class.
"She was always volunteering, always with a smile on her face. Smart, creative. It's a tragedy. It's unbelievable. It's hard to comprehend. I didn't think anything like this would happen to such a great kid."
Finch said when school started last fall, Brooke was nervous about transferring from her small elementary school to the high school.
"She conquered that," he said. "She didn't conquer this."