Rod Hitchler attended a vigil on the Capitol steps Sunday evening to remember his son Ryan.

He was surrounded by families and friends of those who have died on the job. The United Support Memorial for Workplace Fatalities was holding its fourth annual Workers’ Memorial Day.

The attendees held candles and photos and let the tears flow as they remembered the ones they have lost.

“These are the faces that never went home,” said Tonya Ford, the event organizer.

Ford, a Lincoln native, has organized the event every year. She became active in the United Support Memorial for Workplace Fatalities after her uncle died on the job. She said the event brought awareness to workplace injuries and deaths.

From 2008 to 2011, a total of 203 Nebraskans have died after job-related injuries or illnesses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s in the news one day, but the family lives with it forever,” Ford said.

Rod Hitchler said life has changed dramatically since his son died.

On May 12, 2009, Ryan Hitchler was repairing a hangar’s roof at the Nebraska Air National Guard headquarters in Lincoln. The lift Ryan was on collapsed and he fell. Ryan was 25.

Ryan had been working at the summer construction job for only about three weeks, his father said. He had planned to attend the University of Nebraska at Kearney that fall.

The avid outdoorsman planned to study something related to biology, Rod Hitchler said.

He told the crowd his son was the kind of guy who  would strike up a conversation with strangers at a ball game. He was just an easy person to get to know.

Rod Hitchler noted how the crowd has grown in the four years that the vigil has been held.

“Unfortunately, it has grown,” he said.

He said everyone has a responsibility to educate themselves on what to do when something doesn’t look safe to prevent future accidents from happening.

“We all live for the memories now. It’s all we have left.”

Reach Emily Nitcher at 402-473-2657 or enitcher@journalstar.com.