PASCAGOULA -- Friends and family of 27-year-old Jessie Bardwell hope against hope she is still alive.
More than 200 people gathered on the beach Sunday evening for a candlelight vigil to support her family and pray for her return.
Her family realized she was missing on Mother's Day when she failed to call home from Richardson, Texas, where she had moved with her boyfriend.
Richardson police arrested the boyfriend, Jason Lowe, also 27, on a murder charge Friday, but no body has been found.
"At this moment, we do not know, so we will hope and we will pray," said the Rev. Jay Cook of First Baptist Church in Pascagoula, who spoke at the vigil. At the end, the crowd sang "How Great Thou Art" as the water and sky darkened to shades of gray.
Brandon Bardwell, Jessie Bardwell's older brother, and his wife, Kayla, represented the family at the vigil.
They described Jessie Bardwell as a free spirit. After she graduated from high school, she and her brother travelled the country, following bands and attending festivals. They sold paintings to earn money, he said.
Jessie Bardwell moved about four years ago to Gulf Shores. She was working as a waitress in Orange Beach before she moved to Texas with Lowe, whom her friends and family have not met.
Brandon Bardwell believes he will see his sister and best friend again. She had street smarts from all her travel, he said,
"If my sister was in a dangerous situation," Bardwell said, "I feel like she would be able to get out of it."
They last talked in February, when his and Kayla Bardwell's second son was born. She planned to come visit, they said. "I just want my sister back," Brandon Bardwell said.
Kayla Bardwell described her sister-in-law as a free spirit with an artistic bent. She had recently been refurbishing furniture and experimenting with chalk painting.
Her friend Travis Rogers said Jessie Bardwell helped him to accept himself and develop a sense of style. They loved to shop together.
"She is not afraid to be herself," Rogers said. "She is comfortable expressing herself the way she wants."
" ... She has not been confirmed dead yet. We still have hope. That's what we're holding onto."
A prayer service is planned at 12:05 p.m. Monday at St. John's Episcopal Church on Pascagoula Street.