When faith leaders gathered Saturday morning in Baton Rouge to pray for an end to violence, a familiar face was missing from the crowd on the steps of City Hall.

Sadie Roberts-Joseph, the founder of a local African American history museum, participated in the Save Our Cities Now event many times over the years, joining dozens of other Baton Rouge residents for the annual march and rally calling attention to crime, poverty and other problems.

About a week before Saturday's event, Roberts-Joseph became a victim of crime herself; she was found dead of suffocation in the trunk of her car. Police have arrested Ronn Bell, who rented a home from 75-year-old Roberts-Joseph, in the case.

Organizers dedicated Saturday's event to Roberts-Joseph.

"Normally, Ms. Sadie would be here because she stood for unity," said Lloyd Benson II, a pastor with Cathedral World Worship Center in Baton Rouge, which organized the event. "She stood for community engagement. She taught us how to appreciate our heritage, how to collectively build our communities and erase the divides."

During a police-escorted march that crossed Government Street and wound through downtown, a woman sang the gospel tune "Oh Happy Day" through a megaphone while marchers clapped along. Arriving on the steps of City Hall, pastors of several local and out-of-state churches offered prayers for peace.

The occasion followed a spike in violent crime in Baton Rouge. Besides Roberts-Joseph's death, this summer has been marked by other high-profile incidents, including a shooting that hurt seven nightclub patrons and a young man being shot to death, his body then dumped at a busy local park.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome — who along with other officials has emphasized that the recent rash of killings is an anomaly rather than a sign of an overall increase in Baton Rouge's crime rate — was among those at the City Hall gathering.

"I welcome and appreciate our faith leaders who pray for those who are in authority, who pray for our city, who pray for our communities," Broome said. "And I believe that is a catalyst for transforming our communities."

She presented a plaque to Apostle Lloyd Benson Sr., of Cathedral World, recognizing his 18 years of organizing the Save Our Cities Now initiative.

"This year it is more intense and special because of the fact of what has recently happened in our city with the murdering of one of our icons," Benson said, referring to Roberts-Joseph.

In addition to the annual Save Our Cities Now event, Benson and Roberts-Joseph cooperated on many other endeavors to improve life in Baton Rouge.

"We were very close," Benson said.

Just one month ago, Benson recalled, he marched with Roberts-Joseph from her museum on South Boulevard to the riverfront in commemoration of Juneteeneth, which marks the anniversary of slavery being abolished in Texas in 1865.

Though Roberts-Joseph's absence was palpable Saturday, Benson remained upbeat, saying he was heartened to see people show up to take a stand against violence and other social ills in Baton Rouge.

"We want to see the city come together and unify and work together to restore the values to our city," he said.