COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – With the last of 16 Ohio families notified that their Marines were dead in Iraq, other military families rallied to help, and hundreds gathered for a prayer vigil in Cleveland.

“When my son comes home, I can have my nervous breakdown,” said Isolde Zierk, who leads a support group for a Columbus-based reservist company that has suffered 11 of the casualties. “Until then, I’ll just keep on doing what I can.”

The losses came in quick succession for the suburban Cleveland-based 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. Two soldiers died July 28 in a gun battle, followed by five on Monday while on sniper patrol. Then nine members of the battalion were killed Wednesday along with five other Marines and an interpreter in the deadliest roadside bombing of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Among those attending the noontime gathering in Cleveland on Friday were family members of Cpl. Jeff Boskovitch, one of the Marines killed.

“We wanted to show, even though we’re still grieving, we’re still part of this community and we’re going to get up and move on,” said his father, Jim Boskovitch, his wife crying at his side.

Many were in tears at the service, including workers from the nearby Department of Defense finance center, which handles payroll for the servicemen.

“These are wonderful lives of hope and promise that were taken from us,” Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell said. “We want you (families) to know in the midst of your grief you are not alone.”

A larger memorial will be held Monday night in Cleveland at a convention center that can hold 30,000 people.

The week’s deaths devastated communities across the state and sent families of soldiers in the battalion on a frantic search for details of what happened. Zierk said she didn’t get the news faster than other people, but she became a common contact for those seeking encouragement or just someone to talk to.

The whole time, her thoughts were on her son, Sgt. Guy Zierk, 29, who serves in the Columbus-based Lima Company. On Wednesday, she had choked back tears as she said, “My stomach’s in knots.” Now that she knows he’s alive, she plans to send an e-mail update to the 300 family members of the company’s reservists and continue lending a shoulder to those who need it.

“Even though I am a mother too and have a son there, my role is to help take care of other families, and that is what I am concentrating on now,” she said.

Others are also reaching out to those who lost sons, husbands, brothers and fathers.

Jan Rozanski, whose son Sgt. Alex Rozanski serves in the battalion and was not killed, plans to attend as many funerals as possible even though he doesn’t know the family members of any of the Marines who died.

The remains of the nine killed Wednesday should return to the U.S. within about five days, said Capt. Chris Logan, a Marines spokesman.

Kristin Earhart, 22, of Pickerington, said she shares a special connection with those who have lost loved ones. Her boyfriend, Cpl. Dustin Derga, was among four other Lima Company Marines who were killed in May.

“They are close friends and there is something relaxing and comforting about being with people that have been through the same things,” she said. “There is a bond that will never fade.”

Some family members connected to the Lima Company are doing what they can to make the surviving Marines’ homecoming a welcome one.

Retired Sgt. Jim Bannister hopes to collect $50,000 by October to pay for members of the company to attend the Marine ball in November. The desire to help has only grown as the company’s casualties have mounted, said Bannister, who attended a family picnic for the company Sunday.

“You could just sense it,” he said of the atmosphere at the event. “There’s been a real outpouring of support.”

Associated Press writers Joe Milicia in Cleveland, Sarah Anderson in Columbus and Terry Kinney and Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.

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