A celebration of life Sunday for slain 18-year-old Vernece Brown was consumed by a pain that is still too raw for her family.
"Where's the mercy?!" her mother, Kim Hyler, wailed as the red balloons set loose by a mournful, angry crowd soared into the sun.
Brown was last seen alive on Valentine's Day at her home in the 3600 block of Bales Avenue in Kansas City when she left with an unknown man.
On April 28, mushroom hunters in rural Cass County came across human remains that days later were identified as Brown. Her death was ruled a homicide and is being investigated by detectives with the Cass County Sheriff's Office and Kansas City Missouri Police Department. As of Sunday, the case remained unsolved.
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The vigil Sunday was held at the same Bales Avenue home where Brown was last seen. Her mother, Hyler, was surrounded by family who gripped her shoulders and leaned their cheeks in close as she sat on a wooden chair in the yard, her head down and shaking. She screamed again. "Where is the mercy?!"
"It's OK to cry," Rosilyn Temple of KC Mothers in Charge said to Brown's mother early in the somber gathering. "It's OK to scream."
Hyler "is not going to be the same person God once knew," Temple told the crowd. "We've got to stop this madness."
"We've got killers walking around our city," Temple said. "Someone knows. Take a stand. Come forth."
Brown's uncle, William Hyler, remembered his niece as a young woman on the happy verge of independence.
One of her last Facebook posts, he said, was "I can't wait to get my new apartment."
Instead, he said, "She never had the chance to graduate from high school, to move into her new apartment, to register her first car, to walk down the aisle in marriage."
"She'll never see her little sisters and brothers graduate high school."
William Hyler wore a red shirt with Brown's picture beside large words printed in white that read, "We won't stop."
Brown was "a great auntie," her older sister, Takeila Hyler, said. "She was the life of the party. She was beautiful."
Her 10-year-old cousin, Wakeem Hyler, in a white shirt with Vernice's picture and the words, "Beautiful Angel," prepared to speak.
He stood at the center of the dozens gathered, but only said, "She was wonderful, you all know that . . ." He ended in sobs, unable to go on.
Temple called for action.
Anyone with information can call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477.
Or, Temple said, call KC Mothers in Charge at 816-912-2601.
"A witness does the right thing," she said.