Two-year-old James was found dead on a railway embankment on Sunday less than three miles from the Strand shopping centre in Bootle, having wandered away from his mother for less than a minute last Friday.
Though half term was under way, one shop manager reported fewer children around than on a usual busy Monday, and parents said they were on guard.
Meanwhile, police were questioning shoppers in the hunt for the killer. Posters with pictures of James and photographs from security videos of two youths leading him away were a constant reminder of the tragedy.
Outside the precinct's main entrance, a shopper had placed a bunch of carnations with the message: 'To the family of James, from a wellwisher and mother, deepest sorrow'.
In many shops staff organised impromptu collections for the bereaved family. They knew the money could not help, but felt the need to do something.
At A R Tyms, the butcher's where James's mother Denise, 25, was shopping on Friday afternoon when he wandered off, the shop manager Paul Bennett summed up the mood: 'There is a general quietness this morning, which there never is on a Monday. Parents are worried and although it's half-term, I haven't seen a lot of children in the Strand this morning.
'My staff and I all feel devastated that a thing like this could happen and I think the general public feel the same.
'Everyone is really sad for the parents of the baby and that it could happen to someone so young.'
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