MADISON, Ala. - Eli Williams passed away at just 12 years old, suffering from but never losing to the brain cancer that he battled for half of his young life.
While his community grieves his loss, they are also feeling another emotion: joy.
"It was very hurtful. We loved Eli so much, and he was such an inspiration to all who knew him. And yet, we describe him here as a mighty little warrior. His struggle is over, so we rejoice in that. We know where he is, and we know he is with his Father, and we are all comforted by that. We'll miss him, but his legacy lives. It will go on," said Tony Hoover, an elder at Madison Church of Christ where the community gathered for Eli's celebration of life and memorial on Friday.
Eli became known as Eli "The Eliminator" Williams, for his remarkable courage in the face of his disease. There is no cure for medulloblastoma, which he fought since the age of seven.
WHNT News 19 has followed Eli Williams and his family as he battled treatment after treatment, including experimental trials. His family writes on the page that describes a charity formed in his name that he went through so much in search of a better life. It included more than six brain surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and weeks of hospital stays.
To his community, he became a light that can never be extinguished.
"Despite what he was going through, I never saw him once whine, or complain, or even be sad," said Hoover. "He's The Eliminator all right. That bespeaks the courage with which he endured his cancer."
So on Friday, when it was time to say goodbye to Eli, his father shared a special moment with him one last time.
Eli and his father loved to watch Mustangs. It was Eli's favorite car. His father brought Eli's ashes to watch them cruise by before placing Eli in the front seat one last time, to lead the procession to the church.
That's where, as the cars drove in, they met a crowd. People dressed in blue to remember Eli.
"For all of us who are here to share this event together, it's a time of celebration," said Hoover. "This morning we learned someone was coming here from Michigan. Another person said they were coming in from Florida."
Hoover said it was a time to be there for the Williams family, and shower them with love.
We're told the procession of Mustangs and other cool cars and trucks was only a rumbling of the love displayed for the Williams family inside the church.
"He endured and trusted. He was a trusting young man," said Hoover. "We worship a God who calls himself the God of love. God is love. The thing I want his family to feel today, and I know they will, is love. There's a lot of love here in the building today. No doubt, it will continue."
If you missed the memorial for Williams, you can view it on the church's live feed here.
Eli Williams and his family spread awareness about childhood cancer throughout his life, and we are told they will continue to do so since his passing.
The foundation, Eli’s Block Party Childhood Cancer Foundation, was born out of their desire to do good for the world. Eli's fight against childhood cancer continues there.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and the foundation holds special events to mark it, help kids, and educate the community. Its Super Heroes Day falls on September 9, 2017 at Athens' Big Spring Memorial Park on Beaty Street, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Games, vendors, music and more are planned to unify the community against the disease. You can read more about that here.
"It amazed me that such a young lad was able to influence so many adults in such a positive way," Hoover said, noting that Eli's legacy will extend far beyond the time he spent on Earth.
At the school where Eli attended for such a brief time, there came support and sadness as they learned of his passing.
The students wore blue Friday, to remember Eli "The Eliminator" Williams.
"It certainly fits," Hoover said of the nickname. "He was a strong, noble young warrior."