Tarah Souders sat in a wheelchair a few feet away from where her 9-year-old daughter was brutally killed.
Sitting in front of a memorial of crosses and teddy bears for Aliahna Marie Maroney Lemmon – a blanket covering her waist – Souders tried to light her candle as tears streamed down her cheeks.
Around 50 people behind her had just finished singing Amazing Grace and started to sing Silent Night during a candlelight vigil Tuesday. The crowd gathered at Redline Honda, walked across the street and stopped in front of the memorial just a few feet from the scene of Aliahna’s death, which was blocked off with police tape.
When the crowd reached the fourth line of the song and softly sang Holy infant so tender and mild, Souders’ crying turned to heavy sobs.
A man came up and hugged Souders, said a silent prayer for her and walked away. David Story, Souders’ stepfather, then wheeled the grieving mother away.
The somber gathering ended as quietly as it began in about 15 minutes.
Aliahna died a violent death in the early morning hours Thursday, and police say it was at the hands of the man who had been baby-sitting her and her two sisters.
Michael L. Plumadore, 39, had been watching the girls for a week at his home in the Northway mobile home park near Diebold Road and North Clinton Street while Souders recovered from the flu and because her husband works nights and sleeps during the day.
Plumadore told police Monday night where to find Aliahna’s remains, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Acting on what Plumadore told them, police went to two locations – the trailer he was living in and a convenience store about a mile away.
Surveillance video at Phil’s One Stop Marathon, in the 10000 block of North Clinton Street, showed police stopping in front of the Dumpster about 9:20 p.m. Monday and hauling it away on a flat-bed tow truck about 25 minutes later.
Aliahna’s stepgrandfather said at a candlelight vigil Monday that the girl suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder brought by abuse she suffered on two different occasions last year in Iowa. Story said the people who were responsible were caught by police, but he had no other details.
He said Aliahna felt bad about telling on the men because she didn’t want them to get in trouble. Aliahna also had a history of sleepwalking and vision and hearing problems and had attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, her family said.
This was a child with the face of an angel, Story said Monday before he knew Aliahna had been killed. She truly believed everybody had good in them, it just had to be found.
Brandi Mossburg lives with her two children less than 100 yards away from where Aliahna lived and where she was killed.
She heard about the girl’s gruesome death while she was at work.
It made me tremble, Mossburg said. Some tears came out. I felt for them.
Aliahna was a third-grader at Holland Elementary in Fort Wayne Community Schools.
Although most parents, students and staff will have known about her death when they return to school Jan. 5, district spokeswoman Krista Stockman said the school principal would likely send out a letter addressing the tragedy.
The district will provide counseling for staff and students who need help dealing with their grief or shock, Stockman said.
Obviously this is a horrific tragedy, she said. The school will definitely feel the loss of Aliahna. She was a sweet little girl. Our thoughts are with her family.
Mossburg’s 7-year-old son, Adam, played with Aliahna at the bus stop.
Aliahna and a group of other kids who lived in the park played in a vacant lot adjacent to Mossburg’s trailer.
She was just like the rest of them – always smiling, Mossburg said of Aliahna.
She said she will always remember Aliahna for her pretty freckled cheeks – beauty marks, Mossburg called them.
Though she felt safe knowing Plumadore was in jail, Mossburg said the mood in the neighborhood was different.
I told my co-workers I kind of didn’t want to go home because of the feeling around here, she said. It’s kind of numb.
As she watched national news reports about Aliahna’s death late Tuesday, Mossburg decided she’ll move her family out after she gets money from her tax return.
It’s just too close to home, Mossburg said. It’s just too crazy to be around here.
Devon Haynie of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.