Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Vigil for man found dead in burned van
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Aug 15, 2014, 09:45

CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Malibu Wells, James’ wife, speaks at the vigil on Wednesday night and calls her husband a gentle giant.
HOPEWELL — As the night fell on Hopewell Wednesday, candles were lit and tears were shed as friends and family gathered to remember James Wells, a man described as being loving, caring, and from the memories shared that night, will not soon be forgotten. 

On Aug. 9, at 7 a.m. the Hanover County Sheriff’s Department responded to the 6200 block of Wyatt House Road for report of a body being found. Upon arrival, deputies located a body inside of a burned 2004 Chevrolet minivan. 

“Investigators are evaluating all evidence in this case and are working closely with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine the cause and manner of death, as well as to positively identify the victim. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office is working with the Hanover Fire Marshal’s Office to determine the cause of the fire,” a press release from the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office states. 

Though, as of press time, the sheriff’s office has not positively identified Wells as the victim in the burned van, his family and friend knew they had lost someone close to their hearts. 

In the parking lot behind the Econo Lodge on Oaklawn Boulevard, more than 50 people gathered to light a candle in Wells’ honor and share memories of the very beloved man. 

“James was over at my house probably more than he was at his own,” one woman said, recalling a story from his childhood in which he and three friends chased deer through Battlefield Park. “... He was so very spontaneous. You never knew what he might say or what he might do. That’s what made James, James. He was always, always a big teddy bear because he wore his heart on his sleeve.” 

With the light from the candles shadowing the faces of the crowd, tears could be seen running down the faces of many as stories of this gentle giant continued to be shared, with everyone bringing up his kind spirit and larger than life personality. 

“He loved everybody and they were great friends,” Melissa Hanlett said of James and her husband, saying that James has left his great friend behind. 

As memories were shared among those gathered in the parking lot that night, it was apparent Wells touched the lives of many, if only for a moment in time. 

“I talked to Jim last month,” a woman said. “I was complaining to him about my problems. ... I was telling him how upset I was, that everything was going badly, and he told me that no matter how bad it gets that it will always get better no matter what.” 

Shannon Marshall said Wells was the perfect person to share anything with, as he would not judge, just listen. 

“I could tell him anything and he wouldn’t judge me. He didn’t judge anybody and most definitely loved everybody,” Marshall said. “There was never anything he wouldn’t do for me or anybody else, and all I can say is I’m going to miss him.” 

Kids help prepare the candles for the vigil Wednesday evening.
Perhaps there was no greater love shown at the vigil that night than when Malibu Wells, wife of James Wells, spoke. Speaking through her tears, Malibu shared their love story. 

The two met online and when James flew her out to Virginia, they got married within three days of meeting. In a week, it would have been their six-year wedding anniversary. 

“We knew we were meant for each other,” Malibu said. “... He was the most incredible man that you would ever want to meet. He would do anything to help somebody. He was just hilarious. He would make you laugh, no matter what mood you were in. If you were down or sad, he would cheer you up. I don’t know what else to say except he will be terribly, terribly missed.” 

During the vigil, many held a yellow or black balloon, colors representing the Pittsburgh Steelers, James’ favorite football team. During the ceremony, Malibu held a Steelers’ towel, clutching it tight, to hold her husband’s memories as close as she could. 

Hanlett read a poem at the close of the vigil. 

“You left without a warning, not even saying goodbye and I can’t seem to stop asking the question why. I didn’t see this coming, it hit me by surprise and when you left this world a small part of me died. Your smile could brighten anyone’s day no matter what they were going through. And I know every day for the rest of my life, I’ll be missing you.” 

With the last line read, the balloons were released, as his friends and family watched them float into the night sky. 

A graveside service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at Tabernacle Baptist Church in South Hill. A memorial service will be held on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Calvary’s Love Ministries in Hopewell.

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