The glow from a prayer candle illuminated a picture of Gerardo Villamar Jr. as the slain man's family recited the rosary inside a small apartment.
A shrine with pictures, flowers and Villamar's favorite cowboy boots stood against a wall in his father's living room. A bottle of his favorite tequila rested near the boots.
The family has packed into the apartment every night since his funeral last week to pray. They shed tears, exchange hugs and share hot chocolate.
Villamar, 23, was stabbed on Christmas Eve as he walked down a dark Kennewick street with his three cousins. His killer managed to stab three of the men before disappearing and has not been found.
Police have released a sketch of the suspect and the knives used in the attack. They say witnesses have been mum and leads have dried up.
Villamar died in the emergency room at Trios Health in Kennewick. He left behind four younger siblings and a large family.
"Junior was a big part of our family," said Dayana Villamar, 13, who called her stepbrother "Gorilla" because of his size. "He was the rock of the family. He was the one who would help us with anything we needed."
Family members have had trouble coming to terms with how and why he was killed, they said. Many refuse to talk about the night he was stabbed because it causes too much pain.
Villamar -- who grew up in California and moved to the Tri-Cities for good after high school -- was a quiet man who didn't mind being different, said his father, Gerardo Villamar Sr. He used to dress like a "greaser," slicking his hair back, and loved Spanish country music. A mariachi band played at his funeral.
Villamar Sr. was with his son hours before he was killed, he said. He was awakened early Christmas morning and told to go to the hospital. When he got there, he found out his son was dead.
Villamar Sr. has visited his son every day since he was buried, he said. He pretends Villamar is sleeping as he talks to the headstone.
"I can't describe to you what I am feeling," he said. "It's like someone cut my heart in half. I can't explain it. I still feel him."
Villamar dreamed of making enough money to one day support his family, family members said. He talked about being more than a construction worker or someone who does odd jobs.
The graduate of Charter College worked as a air conditioner installer, for a potato company and at a winery, his family said. He saved up enough to buy a Mercedes a little more than a year ago, so the younger kids in his family could see that hard work buys nice things.
"If he didn't have a job he would say 'I have to go get a job,' " said his cousin, Sara Villamar, 15. "He was a hard worker. He was real smart."
Police said the stabbings may have been gang related, but Villamar's family said he was a cool-headed man who didn't associate with gangs.
Police said they believe at least one of Villamar's cousins is gang-affiliated. They do not suspect Villamar was associated with any gang. All three of the cousins were jailed after the stabbings for rioting and outstanding warrants.
Villamar's death has left some family members angry that his killer is still at large and that their loved one has been linked to gangs, they said.
Family members hope the public will help catch the killer and bring some closure to their pain. One of Villamar's younger sisters had to go to the hospital after having a panic attack when she thought about what happened.
"He had no right to do that to my brother," Dayana said. "He didn't deserve to go out like that. He didn't deserve that."
His young siblings said Villamar always took time to make sure they had someone to talk to. He emphasized the importance of getting an education even though he never had anyone telling him he had to go to school.
"He was just really caring," said his stepbrother, Abraham Villamar, 15. "He protected us. I wish I could have spent more time with him to learn."
When the family buried Villamar at Desert Lawn Memorial Park in Kennewick, an inversion cloud that had been hanging over the Tri-Cities suddenly cleared, they said.
"It was God welcoming him home," said Angel Garcia, 19, Villamar's cousin. "God needed him. Like a soldier. Like a warrior. Junior was right there and God needed."
-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; email@example.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson