The grief still burns

Neighbors held a candlelight vigil on the one-year anniversary of a teen's death in a drive-by shooting.

By Lorraine Gennaro
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Aug. 22, 2002

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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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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. kimmie said... on Aug 6, 2008 at 06:36PM

“i just saw the picture on the street sign pole on 5th street strip.”

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2. lizz said... on Mar 22, 2009 at 06:59PM

“I remeber all of this im from 5th and pierce street its so sad”

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3. juanita said... on Apr 30, 2012 at 06:30PM

“Miss the s*** out of my Best friend we were like two peas in a pot I no if she were here She would be Right here we were blood sisters for life you were gone to soon I still after all these year cant understand why When you passed I felt a part of me go I wish I could go back to That Night and tell you to come With me I Just saw you minutes before and still see your face looking at me and the Store tears I miss you somuch word would ever be enough to explain how much o miss you see you Again vee”

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4. nena said... on May 17, 2012 at 12:15PM

“Mizz u titi alot i still remeber the day they took u even though i was only 3 i still remember..... :`( still weap 4 u...”

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5. Tori said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 08:27PM

“I lost a big sister that night I remember when you stopped 5 girls from jumping me in the park across from vare, when you taught me how to jump rope or when you and Diana thought it was funny to give me a make-over and actually make me dress like a chick instead of boys clothes (which were comfortible btw) lol smh I miss you like crazy V and Louie is so grown now it's scary to think its been so long but your life is still fresh in our hearts and minds your never forgotten”


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