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Candlelight vigil held on first anniversary of 7-year-old A’yanna Allen’s death

FRANKLIN — The gravesite is quiet, set off next to a pond toward the back of Rowan Memorial Park, lit only by the full moon and a slowly growing glow of candles.

Roneshia Woodberry picked her way across the ground, phone in hand. She shined the front-facing camera on the grave and the collection of candles.

“You see your daughter all the way from Texas?” she asked Shequita Woodberry, who watched from the screen. “You see your baby?”

It was one year ago — Dec. 4, 2016 — when 7-year-old A’yanna Allen was killed as she slept in her grandmother’s Harrel Street home. The barrage of bullets that cut off her bright, short life also left her grandmother, Shirley Robinson, injured.

Monday night, friends and family gathered at A’yanna’s graveside to remember the smiling, loving girl and to reaffirm their desire to see justice served.

The candlelight vigil was in tandem with another one — a balloon release in Texas organized by A’yanna’s mother, Shequita Woodberry, who moved away from Salisbury after her daughter’s untimely death.

At the gravesite, the crowd was quiet as people remembered Monday evening.

“This is for the family to pray for A’yanna and for justice for A’yanna,” said Jamila Martin, the vigil’s organizer.

It was a sentiment echoed by others, time and time again.

“We are not supposed to be here,” said Rneshia Woodberry, A’yanna’s aunt. “I just pray that justice will be served.

One by one, the small group huddled against the cold, sharing memory after memory: her hugs, her rough tackles in football, her caring nature and her love of food.

“A’yanna was a joy to my life,” said her great-grandmother, Joanne Cunningham.

Community leader Latasha Wilkes said she’d spoken at length with Koontz Elementary School students who knew A’yanna, and all spoke highly of her.

“She didn’t have to pretend to love anybody,” Wilkes said. “It came from her heart.”

Al Heggins, a recently elected member of the Salisbury City Council, said it is important to remember A’yanna by “doing the right thing.”

“We’re not going to forget her,” she said. “We’re not going to let her die in vain.”

Together, the group reflected on the tragedy that brought them together and their determination that it never happen again.

“What’s her name?” Chariel Dye, with Great Women and Men United Inc., asked the group.

“A’yanna,” they called back.

“Let’s not ever forget that,” she said.

Dye said that she, Martin and other members of the group would be at A’yanna’s gravesite each year until her murder is solved — and then each year after that.

Family members said they have faith in the Salisbury Police Department to solve A’yanna’s murder and noted that the department has been keeping them up-to-date on the case. Police Chief Jerry Stokes and several other representatives of the department attended the vigil and affirmed that they, too, want to see justice done.

“This is still something that is a hurt for us,” Stokes said.

The department will do everything it could to try to solve the case, he said.

Just be patient, Dye said. In the meantime, the good memories of A’yanna will keep her alive and with those she loved.

Anyone with information about the shootings of A’yanna Allen and Sharod Raheen Mathis, who was killed the same night, are asked to contact the Salisbury Police Department at 704-638-5333 or Salisbury-Rowan CrimeStoppers at 866-639-5245.

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