Brenda Brown gathered friends and family in a semicircle in North Street Park on Sunday night and asked them to pray for Deanna Wesley.
Brown, 64, of Baton Rouge, prayed aloud while holding hands with about 20 others, asking them to remember her niece who was found stabbed to death in the park in July 2004.
Brown’s prayers were part of a service to remember 10 women, including Wesley, 37, who were slain in a 4-square-mile area around the park between 1999 and 2004.
“We will not forget those people, Lord God,” Brown said as others fought back tears. “They are not just a statistic.”
Most of the victims were black women who had previous criminal histories, including prostitution.
Arrests were made in five of the 10 deaths, but not Wesley’s.
Of those arrests, no one has been convicted.
Wesley’s case is considered cold because it has no active leads, police spokesman Sgt. Donald Stone said Friday.
Sunday’s event marked the second time Wesley’s family has held a service to remember her. The last service came in 2004.
Brown said the family decided to hold another observance when they discovered Wesley’s case had gone cold.
“That made us weep more than the death,” Brown said.
Christopher Wesley, 26, Deanna Welsey’s son, last saw his mother while he was in prison for first-degree armed robbery. He said his mother wrote letters to him at least monthly.
He flew in from New York City Sunday where he now works as a hip-hop recording artist to attend the service.
He said he owes “90 percent” of his newfound success to his mother.
“To me personally, she was a single mother that was definitely about her family,” he said.
Christopher Welsey said he wants people to keep remembering his mother, especially after the dissolution of the task force.
“They didn’t give the public enough info about it,” he said.
Brown said the last service in 2004 served as a way for people to try to clear the park’s reputation as “Murder Park.”
Brown repeated that theme Sunday during an impassioned speech before the group prayer.
“Don’t you say that, because the murder stops now,” she shouted. “We’ve lifted the curse.”
Brown handed out flowers to family members. Brown’s sister, Lander Stovall, 58, lit candles and handed them out to the gatherers.
The group walked toward a pair of trees about 10 yards apart — where Wesley’s body was found.
Flowers and a picture of Wesley were placed on the ground as people embraced each other and wept.
Lyndsay Wesley, 21, Deanna’s daughter, thanked people for attending.
She said she remembers her mother well, especially her voice.
“She could sing like a mockingbird,” she said.
Lyndsay Welsey said she did not want the ceremony to be sad.
“I want this vigil to be happy,” Lyndsay Welsey said. “I want it to be full of life. I want it to be joyous.”
Amber Brown, 21, Wesley’s cousin, said she vividly remembers hearing the news of Wesley’s death.
“I remember pulling up, and we had a lot of people here at the house,” she said. “I got out the car, and I was like, ‘What’s wrong?”
Amber Brown said she wants people to remember her cousin as someone who was “full of life.”
“She was just very playful,” she said. “She was a go-getter. She did what she had to do.”
A cold case
Jeffery Lee Guillory was arrested in connection with the deaths of three of the 10 women: Florida Edwards, 36; Sylvia Cobb, 36; and Renee Newman, 46.
Guillory’s trial in the killing of Newman is scheduled for Sept. 19.
Donald Andrews was booked in connection with the April 2009 death of Tannis Walker, 36. However, DNA testing did not connect Andrews, then 41, to Walker’s death.
Andrews was also named a suspect in the beating death of Dianna Williams, 35, but he was never booked in that case.
Bernard Thompson was booked in 2000 in the death of Veronica Courtney, 44.
Seven months after the arrest, State District Judge Don Johnson ordered Thompson released because no charges were filed against him.
Police have no leads in the other cases in which no arrests have been made, Stone said.
The women in those cases are Wesley; Shirley Mikell, 33; Patricia Hawkins, 39; and Tawanna Hayes, 29.
Police formed a task force in 2000 to investigate whether the killings might have been committed by one person. The task force dissolved two months later with no conclusion.