SARATOGA SPRINGS — More than 150 people gathered outside a Saratoga Springs restaurant Sunday to hold a candlelight vigil for a man who was shot and killed by police.
A mixed crowd of white, black and Hispanic adults and children, some of whom had never met Darrien Hunt, lit candles, sang the LDS children's hymn, "I Am a Child of God," and offered words of comfort and condolence at the same spot where Hunt was gunned down four days earlier. A makeshift memorial with balloons, flowers, pictures and letters written to Hunt were posted on the side of the Panda Express restaurant.
"He was the nicest young man I ever met," one of Hunt's neighbors told the crowd gathered in the parking lot. "Darrien loved deeply. He loved his family."
During a prayer at the beginning of the vigil given by one of Hunt's neighbors, the crowd was asked not to let hate and anger overtake them. The neighbor also asked that the Saratoga Springs police officers and their families be kept in people's prayers.
Hunt, 22, was shot and killed by police Wednesday morning. He was carrying what has been described by police as a Samurai sword. His family said it was a 3-foot long Katana that was purchased at an Asian gift shop locally. They said it was for display only and had a rounded edge that could not cut anything.
Hunt was reportedly confronted by two officers near a credit union in the area of Crossroads Boulevard and Redwood Road after they received reports of a suspicious person. There were no reports of Hunt trying to enter any of the businesses.
The family believes that a shot was fired and Hunt ran toward the Panda Express, about 200 yards away, where he was shot several more times and died.
The vigil comes on the heels of growing tension between Hunt's family and Saratoga Springs police amid continuing questions about what transpired during that initial confrontation between officers and Hunt.
On Friday, Susan Hunt, who is white, accused the officers involved in the shooting of racial profiling, saying that the confrontation ended in gunfire because her son was black.
The spokesman for the city of Saratoga Springs responded with a brief prepared statement Friday that stated in part: "Any claim that our officers’ actions were a result of Mr. Hunt's race are completely unfounded and speculative. Our officers responded to a call for service and addressed the situation that was presented to them."
On Saturday, the Utah County Attorney's Office, which is investigating the shooting, issued its own statement — the first time since the shooting that either police or investigators offered an explanation of what prompted officers to shoot Hunt.
"When the officers made contact with Mr. Hunt, preliminary evidence suggests that Mr. Hunt brandished the sword and lunged toward the officers with the sword, at which time Mr. Hunt was shot," Utah County Chief Deputy Attorney Tim Taylor wrote. "There is currently no indication that race played any role in the confrontation between Mr. Hunt and the police officers."
Yet Hunt family attorney Randall Edwards said the family had an independent autopsy conducted and it revealed that Hunt was shot six times — all from behind while he was likely running away from police.
"None of them appeared to have entered from the front. In fact, the shot that killed Darrien entered right in the middle of the back. He was also shot in the shoulder, there were two shots in the thigh, one in the elbow and one in the hand, I believe," he said.
Edwards passed out flyers at the vigil, asking for all eyewitnesses to step forward and contact his office. He said he doesn't know what transpired between Hunt and police nor where the Utah County Attorney's Office was getting its information about Hunt lunging at officers.
"It's hard for me to understand exactly what the police are saying," Edwards said. "Common sense tells me it's awfully hard to lunge toward somebody and end up with a shot in the back."
Cindy Moss, Hunt's aunt, agreed.
"In my mind, I'm having a hard time picturing someone lunging and running away at the same time," she said.
The family has launched a petition drive calling for a citizen's review board to look at the case.
Both Hunt's mother, from Saratoga Springs, and father, from Virginia, were present at the vigil but were too emotional to speak.
Moss also fought back tears as she expressed gratitude for the support her family has received.
"I'm just thankful that people care about what's going on and what happened to Darrien," she said. "There are so many people who have tried to reach out to us, and letters, and we don't even know most of them. We thought we needed to get together so everyone could mourn together and remember Darrien together and celebrate his life."
As for arguments that an innocent person wouldn't have tried to run from police, Edwards said it's been his experience that every case is different.
"It is very hard to say that a guilty person would not run or an innocent person would not run. Every situation is different and in this case, we simply don't know what that situation was," he said. "We believe that this family deserves to know why their son ended up dead on the sidewalk in Saratoga Springs."
As of Sunday, Saratoga Springs police had not directly spoken to the media about the incident, instead deferring all comments to a city spokesman or the Utah County Attorney's Office.
But on the Saratoga Springs Police Facebook page, the department attacked the Utah news media Sunday, claiming that news organizations don't report facts because they need ratings.
"Everyone should remember that the news outlets have ratings they need to gain. They don't report facts. They use innuendo, opinion and rumor and then report it as fact," the post states. "The real facts are being determined by an independent investigation, and not in a rushed or haphazard manner. When those facts are gathered and analyzed, they will be reviewed by independent legal authorities. There is no cover up and there is no corruption."
It was unknown Sunday who is responsible for the department's Facebook posts.