For the family of a slain Arizona State University student Kyleigh Sousa, the past year has been one filled with sadness and struggle as they have moved through the grieving process.
A year ago Wednesday marked the last time Karen Montenegro saw her daughter, when she left Kyleigh’s apartment after giving her a hug and a kiss and telling her she loved her.
This Thursday will mark the first year anniversary of Sousa’s death, as Joseluis Marquez, 21, a transient police say is responsible for causing it, proceeds through court hearings on first-degree murder and robbery charges. Marquez was arrested in December, seven months after the crime thanks to what Tempe police called “good old-fashioned” police work. Investigators weeded through more than 500 tips and also found a car that matched the description of the one witnesses saw flee the scene after reviewing photos of speed photo enforcement tickets and comparing the car’s driver to a composite sketch of the suspect.
Sousa, 21, a well-liked junior at ASU and an aspiring trial attorney who was working as a waitress at the Tavern on Mill in Tempe, died hours after a man driving a rented 2008 Charger grabbed her purse on May 26 near the ASU campus and sped off. Sousa, who was tangled in the purse straps, was dragged by the car and suffered severe head injuries. She was pronounced dead hours later at a nearby hospital as members of her family flew back to Arizona from their home state of New Jersey.
“It has been the most unusual year of my life,” Karen Montenegro told the Tribune. “The pain hasn’t gone away. It’s been a long climb back to where I am now. It’s never ending. We think of Kyleigh every day. Everything we do, we do for Kyleigh.”
In the first year since her death, Sousa’s family has formed the Kyleigh Ann Sousa Memorial Foundation to help the families of murdered children or victims who were seriously injured from senseless crimes as well as patients suffering from brain or facial deformities from severe brain trauma.
Karen Montenegro has organized “Mothers of Angels,” a healing group of mothers of murdered children that has grown from three to 25 in the last year based in Kyleigh’s hometown of Point Pleasant, N.J.
And Kyleigh’s older brother, Bernie Sousa, has opened Ky’s Lounge in Morgantown, Va., a sports bar and grill named after his sister, where he attended the West Virginia University and where Michael Sousa, the youngest Sousa sibling now is attending.
Montenegro said she had planned to spend the first-year anniversary of Kyleigh’s death quietly, but a number of her friends are conducting a fundraiser at the Shore House Pier restaurant where they have about 100 reservations, so far.
Some of Kyleigh’s family and friends also recently raised about $13,000 from participating in the Pittsburgh Marathon.
Locally, the staff of the Tavern on Mill where Sousa worked as a waitress for six months will be among six Tempe bars and restaurants along the Mill Avenue strip near ASU holding fundraisers and drink specials from Thursday to Sunday to benefit the Kyleigh Ann Sousa Foundation.
“We’re going to do anything we can to honor her memory,” said Nic Kelly, manager of the Tavern on Mill. “Right now, we’re just trying to move forward with the situation, but trying to make a positive impact.”
At a later date, Brian Hanlon, who is known as “New Jersey’s Sculptor” is planning to dedicate a slightly larger than life-size bronze sculpture in Kyleigh’s likeness at the Greenwood Cemetery in Brielle, N.J. where she is buried. She’ll be portrayed walking off the beach in a sunswept dress surrounded by three doves in flight.
Marquez’s case is the first murder case for Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who was elected to the post in the November general election. Marquez is next scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on June 14, and his trial is scheduled to begin in August.
He is being held in a Maricopa County jail without bond.
“When I saw Kyleigh outside her apartment for the last time before I left for New Jersey, I wish I just would’ve scooped her up and brought her home,” Montenegro said.
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