WEST SACRAMENTO -- They gathered where little Kelvin and Julie should have come to learn and laugh Thursday -- the same place where their baby brother Lucas may have followed in their footsteps.
Instead, Southport Elementary was a place of shared grief and gifts of comfort Thursday as the West Sacramento community tried to come to grips with three young lives taken -- investigators say by their own father.
"My daughter, she walked home with them every day, and she says 'Mom, they're not gonna walk home with me anymore.' That hit hard," mother Cristina Alvarez said with tears streaming down her face.
Missing her walking buddies, little Aaliyah Alvarez had her classmates help make a card for them.
"I wrote hearts in the front," the fifth-grader sobbed.
"And then I wrote a note to them to say 'good luck.' I wish them good luck in heaven," she said.
Family members spoke out on behalf of the children's mother who was too devastated to attend the vigil.
"You fall into despair, and to come out here and to see even in darkness there is light. You are the light that shines on this family," said Mai Menzis.
Police say 33-year-old Robert Hodges is the one who left loved ones in need of light.
The CHP arrested him on Interstate 80 at West El Camino about two and a half hours after the first 911 call alerted authorities something was wrong at his family's apartment at the Timbers complex.
One neighbor there who didn't want to reveal her identity says she saw Hodges follow his distraught wife out of their apartment after choking her.
"She could barely even stand on her two feet," she said."He seemed content, content, absent, very calm, not in a rage, not in a rush."
The neighbor says she rushed into their unit to find what everyone here is now grieving --11-year-old Kelvin, 9-year-old Julie and 7-month-old Lucas dead.
"What got us through the day is all the students...just to see how strong they are.
It wasn't easy," said Southport Elementary Teacher Christel Cruz as her eyes welled up.
She didn't know the Hodges children personally, but could barely speak above a whisper as she thought about what happened to them.
Longtime friends of Robert Hodges are just as stunned and saddened by all that's happened.
"We've never seen anything about Robby that would make us think that he was anything but the perfect father, the perfect family man," said Steve McCrickard.
Dealing with what caused such loss, has all of West Sacramento turning to each other and to their respective faiths to cope.
One pastor offered these words, "May we watch you God through your son...light the way of healing our broken hearts."