Neighbors held a candlelight vigil on the one-year anniversary of a teen's death in a drive-by shooting.
Valencia said she believed her daughter had been braiding someone's hair shortly before the bullets began to fly.
The fallen teenager had so many dreams, her mother recalled. Veronica wanted to be a beautician or model most of all, but she also wrote songs and poetry.
"She was very talented and she wanted to do everything. She was so full of life, so full of energy. Everybody liked her. She was a very popular girl," said Valencia.
In loving tribute to the teen, neighbors, family and friends created a makeshift memorial to Rios at Fifth and Pierce streets.
Veronica's father knows the exact spot where his daughter was struck down. A stuffed red satin heart that reads "I Love You" marks the spot. "That's where my baby's blood was," he said, pointing to the heart.
Valencia cannot bring herself to visit the memorial, and has seen it only once since it was erected a year ago. Nor could she bear to attend Friday's vigil.
Since the tragedy, the neighborhood has taken positive steps.
The South Philadelphia Community Group, which sponsored the memorial event, recently grew out of the Greenwich Square Neighborhood Advisory Council. The grassroots organization is comprised of residents from the area between Mifflin and Dickinson and Fourth and Seventh streets, said Crystal Cooper, who serves on the group's public-relations committee.
The organization had hoped to turn the vacant building at Fifth and Pierce streets into a community center, recreational site and safe haven for children. The building's owner was willing to sell it to the group for just $1, but it would have cost too much to repair the years of neglect and structural damage, Cooper said.
A concerned neighbor, Gloria Bryant, intervened and donated a building at 1926 S. Fifth St. that will serve as the community center.
Meanwhile, Malik Aziz, director of Operation Safe Streets, has been working with residents and Councilman Frank DiCicco to clean up the neighborhood's act.
"We need to stop talking about crime prevention and start doing something about it. We need to look out for each other in the community and watch out for our children," Aziz told the crowd at Friday's vigil.
Thanks to the efforts of Operation Safe Streets and other organizations like the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, the once drug-infested and crime-ridden area has seen some improvement, said Cooper.
"Fifth Street is finally cleaned up now. You don't see the drug dealing and people standing outside drinking like you once did," she noted.
Joseph Rios said Friday's vigil was held in part to encourage the young people of the neighborhood to straighten out their lives and get on the right path.
"Kids are our future. If we keep burying our kids, we'll have no future," he said. "We've got to protect our little ones."
A self-described religious man, Joseph Rios believes he will be reunited with his daughter someday. "I am just holding on. It's been a year since I've seen my baby. I can't see her no more. When I go to heaven, I will be able to see her."
Until then, Rios said, he will continue to visit his daughter's grave three times a week.
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