EDITOR'S NOTE: The details of this case are graphic and may be upsetting for some readers.
Thousands of people lit candles at 7 p.m. Friday to remember Scotty McMillan, the 3-year-old Philadelphia-area boy who prosecutors said was tortured and killed by his mother's boyfriend.
"How could you do that to a 3-year-old boy?" asked Jeff Messantonio, of Norristown, Pa., who started the Facebook page calling for people to simultaneously light candles, wherever they are, to "light the way to heaven" for Scotty.
More than 16,000 people joined the event and honored the Chester County boy, who investigators said had already died before arriving at a local hospital Tuesday night.
“When his body went into the emergency room our ER nurses — who see a lot of terrible things — when they saw his body, they wept,” said Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan.
A Chester County church also held a vigil to honor the boy, as well as 41-year-old Jacinda Miller, who was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend outside the Brandywine YMCA Monday night.
The Gateway Church, located at 160 Cowan Road in Sadsbury, remembered McMillan and Miller in a service Friday night.
The toddler's death shocked people across the Delaware Valley, who learned Thursday that Scotty’s own mother, Jillian Tait, and her boyfriend Gary Fellenbaum are facing murder charges after the boy was found unresponsive inside the West Caln Township trailer home the couple shared with Fellenbaum’s estranged wife, Amber Fellenbaum.
“Over a three-day period… he was systematically tortured and beaten to death,” Hogan said. “He was punched in the face and in the stomach, he was scourged with a homemade whip, he was lashed with a metal rod, he was tied to a chair and beaten, he was tied upside down by his feet and beaten, his head was smashed through a wall and at the end of that he had bruises on top of bruises all over his body.”
Hogan announced Thursday a total of 16 charges against Gary Fellenbaum including first- and third-degree murder charges, homicide, endangering the welfare of a child, assault and reckless endangerment. Tait faces 15 charges, including first-degree murder, according to court records.
A judge denied bail to both Fellenbaum and Tait at a Wednesday arraignment.
Messantonio said the crime disturbed himself and his wife so much, parents to an 11-month-old, that they felt compelled to do something to remember him.
"I expected a few hundred of my [Facebook] friends to respond," he said. "Not 15,000."
Messantonio asked anyone who lit a candle in Scotty's honor to post a photo of the flame and their location to the page.
"It's truly amazing to see our community come together for this little boy," he said. "Let's do this the right way for him."
He also reminded the public to refrain from making comments about the boy's relatives -- many learned of his death from the same news reports as others.