Two-year-old Alanis Torres dries the tears of her mother Joselinne Rivera-Ruiz during a candlelight vigil to celebrate the life of her sister Jorelys Rivera in Canton on Sunday, Dec 2, 2012. The 7-year-old was sexually assaulted, stabbed and beaten to death a year ago.
It was a brutal crime that shocked Canton and reverberated far beyond this Cherokee County community: Last Dec. 2, 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera was raped, beaten and stabbed to death, her body dumped in a trash bin.
On Sunday, exactly a year later, more than 100 people gathered to celebrate her life, not to dwell upon her death. Clutching candles, sometimes shedding tears, they remembered her with words, music and photographs. And they spoke of their hope of seeing her again.
“Even though Jorelys is not with us right now, we cannot see her, she is in an eternal place,” said Pastor Eloisa Gonzalez of Mt. Zion Church.
Jorelys became a household name for the wrong reasons last December. She was playing with friends at the River Ridge apartments, where she lived, when she left to get a drink and never returned.
Police searched for nearly three days before finding her body in a trash compactor at the apartment complex.
The weeks that followed brought a series of events — sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes outrageous — that rattled the community. Her funeral featured doves, stuffed animals and a small white coffin decorated with pink flowers.
Ryan Brunn, a 20-year-old maintenance man who lived at the apartment complex, was arrested and pleaded guilty to murder, child molestation and other charges. Facing life behind bars without parole, he later committed suicide in prison.
An investigation of the Canton Police Department portrayed a bungled search for Jorelys in the first 48 hours after she went missing. Police Chief Jeff Lance subsequently resigned.
For weeks the headlines kept coming. But Canton has begun to heal and Jorelys’ mother, Joselinne Rivera, has played a key role. She helped secure funding for a new police department program to educate children and parents about predators. The YMCA that hosts that program also hosted Sunday night’s candlelight vigil.
“She has never once asked for anything for herself,” said Amy Turcotte, director of development at Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, a foster care facility for abused and neglected young men.
Since Jorelys’ death, the police department has revamped the way it responds to child abductions, according to new Chief Robert Merchant.
“We’re better off for it,” Merchant said. “I think the community is better for it, too.”
After the vigil, Joselinne Rivera said the past year had been hard. But she takes strength from her two surviving daughters. And she said the community has treated her well. During the candlelight vigil, her 2-year-old daughter Alanis Torres wiped her mother’s tears.
As for Jorelys, she wants people “just to remember that she was a bright, outgoing young girl.”