ESSEX, Md. (WJZ) —  A community came together to mourn an unthinkable tragedy.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Kelly Hefner, who lives in Essex.

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A prayer vigil was held in Essex to remember the lives of 7-year-old Joshlyn Johnson, and her 5-year-old brother, Larry O’Neal after their decomposing bodies were found in their aunt’s car during a traffic stop.

“I’m at a loss for words for what has happened, and my heart goes out to the family and this community,” said Angelo “Taps” Dent, assistant regional director of the Baltimore Guardian Angels.

Last Wednesday night in Essex, Baltimore County police said an officer pulled over the driver of a suspicious car – 33-year-old Nicole M. Johnson.

That’s when he smelled a foul odor coming from the car and eventually discovered the bodies of the two young children in the trunk.

According to charging documents, the little girl’s body was reportedly inside a suitcase for more than a year.

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“This incident has shocked and distressed this entire community. It has also absolutely devastated our police department,” said Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt.

Many people who attended the vigil to show support shared a collective question: How could this have happened?

“My opinion, I don’t know how you let your kids go that long without asking questions ’cause I couldn’t,” Hefner said.

But with more questions than answers, Del. Ric Metzgar charged forward, organizing the vigil and lifting the spirits of people in the community through prayers.

“I could not sleep last night, hardly at all,” Metzgar said.

As neighbors try to heal, they want to set a tone of unity so heartwrenching tragedies like this can be prevented.

“Let’s keep caring for each other. Let’s keep an eye out in a caring way to our neighbor,” said Rev. Ed Michael, pastor of Eastern Assembly of God Church.

Johnson is facing several charges in connection to the children’s death. She currently remains in jail with no bond.

The investigation is still ongoing. The medical examiner’s office is working to determine the exact cause of death of the two children.

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