Two boys dressed in matching outfits carefully lifted the tiny white casket from the back of the slate gray hearse parked near the entrance of Catholic Cemetery.
But there would be no interment Sunday afternoon.
The empty vessel was the centerpiece of the Memorial for the Unborn, an annual event organized by Allen County Right to Life. Now in its 27th year, the memorial featured prayer, songs sung by Bishop Dwenger High School students and speakers including David Bangs.
Bangs leads the Right to Life organization in Howard County. He told more than 100 people gathered at the cemetery his girlfriend sought an abortion years ago, and he has never forgotten the painful experience.
The memorial was held weeks after the remains of more than 2,200 aborted fetuses were found at the Illinois home of Ulrich Klopfer, a doctor who performed abortions in South Bend and Fort Wayne and died Sept. 3.
Bangs now works to end abortion and urged those standing near the casket to pray for Klopfer, unborn children and men and women considering terminating pregnancies.
“It's hard to pray for someone like Ulrich Klopfer,” he said. “But we have to, because even they can be redeemed.”
White roses were placed in glass vases in remembrance of lives not lived, and Abigail Lorenzen of Allen County Right to Life said “319 babies of Allen County (were) killed during the 2018 calendar year.”
A single, red rose was placed among the pale flowers to memorialize the remains found at Klopfer's home.
“We are fortunate to have this event now to mourn these babies,” Lorenzen said. “The whole community is just reeling from that.”
A cool wind blew as prayers were prayed, songs were sung and attendees mourned.
Mike Lautzenheiser arrived before the 2 p.m. start time from Bluffton, where he said he is the Right to Life chairman at his church. He and his wife, Debbie, stood quietly throughout the proceedings.
Debbie Lautzenheiser said events such as the memorial are important “to bring public awareness to what's going on.”
Dozens of attendees left the cemetery and walked about a block to a newly opened Planned Parenthood office, where they prayed.