CLEVELAND - With lit candles, family members, friends and community members stood side-by-side in the first vigil held for Christina Adkins since her remains were discovered earlier this month on Cleveland's west side.
Adkins was only 18 years old and about five months pregnant when she went missing from the area of West 25 th and Kinkel Avenue back in 1995. But it wasn't until almost two decades later, after Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were discovered alive on Seymour Avenue, that authorities named a suspect in her murder.
"We just want to make sure the way that she was taken from us is not how we remember her. The way she lived her life is what we want to remember … We want to remember the fact that she was a vibrant, young and beautiful mother-to-be," said Tonia Adkins, Christina's sister.
Christina's mother Debbie Marmol remembers her as a young, vibrant woman. "
We wasn't even like mother and daughter, we were so close it was … unbelievable," said Marmol.
Marmol said she and so many others had hopes Christina would still be found alive after Amanda, Gina and Michelle were rescued from 2207 Seymour Ave. back in May.
After 18 years of silence, Christina Adkins' family finally learned what happened to Christina all those years ago, but it's still not closure for them.
"Right now it's kind of worse than the 18 years I went through, you know what I'm saying? Until I get all my answers, then maybe I can have closure," said Marmol, who attended the pre-trial hearing for Christina's suspected murderer.
For Jose Rivera's family, however, it's one step closer to healing. Rivera was Christina Adkins' boyfriend and believed to be the father of her unborn child. Both sides said they were never able to connect due to suspicions that Rivera had something to do with Adkins' disappearance.
For the first time in almost two decades, Rivera's family and Christina Adkins' family embraced one another, holding hands in prayer at the Friday night vigil.
"Right now it's very emotional," said Rivera. "Rest in peace. I love her. I miss her."
Community leaders like Judy Martin and Art McKoy, who advocated for Christina Adkins and several more of Cleveland's missing children in the past, helped start the vigil. Also in attendance were Nancy Ruiz and Felix DeJesus, the parents of Seymour survivor Gina DeJesus.
"I was devastated. We didn't know what to say," said Felix DeJesus after learning the remains recently found near the intersection of interstates 90, 71 and 490 were confirmed to be the remains of Christina Adkins. Both DeJesus and Ruiz came to support Christina Adkins' family as they continue to advocate for missing children in the area.
"One thing that I must say, we got to do this job and not forget about the ones that are out there missing. So I just want to remind the people of this community to get together and be strong and let not this child to be forgotten, and the rest of them out there missing. We got to get together and bring the rest of them home," said Felix DeJesus.
Friday's vigil was open to the public.
On Sunday, the Adkins family is having a more private memorial service at the Scranton Bible Church located on Scranton Road in Tremont.
Adkins' mother told NewsChannel5 she is trying to raise funds so she can stay in the Cleveland area for her daughter's trial. She is holding a dinner-fundraiser that will be held on Nov. 15 at Sachsenhiem Hall at 7001 Denison Ave. in Cleveland from 6-11 p.m.