RENO, Nev. (AP) - On the day she would have turned 20, scores of people shared cake and memories Saturday at a remembrance for a college student believed killed by a serial rapist.
The five-hour gathering in Reno was held the same day Brianna Denison was scheduled to be buried next to her father at an undisclosed location in California, family members said.
Reno police continue to search for the man accused of abducting
Denison from a house near the University of Nevada, Reno campus on
Jan. 20 and strangling her to death. Her body was found in a Reno
field about eight miles south of the house on Feb. 15.
The suspect has been linked through DNA to two earlier attacks of women in the same area, according to police.
"I'm very sad today and I'm just going to continue to forge on," Denison's aunt, Lauren Denison, said at the remembrance. "It's heart-wrenching and I just wish we could catch this guy."
Locals joined family, friends and volunteers in eating birthday cake and writing messages on cards at the downtown command center where a search for Brianna Denison had been coordinated.
The cards will be placed in an underground vault at a permanent memorial site for Denison at Mountain View Cemetery in Reno. The
memorial also includes a white cross adorned with a photo of her and a heart of blue - her favorite color.
Command center volunteer Pam Scott described the mood of Saturday's event as "a little somber." Some people broke out in tears when a tribute song to Denison by her 15-year-old brother, Brighton, was played.
The sophomore at Santa Barbara City College in California was visiting her hometown over winter break when she was abducted while she slept on a couch in a friend's home just off the Reno campus.
She was studying psychology.
"It's tragic the life of someone who could have added so muchto the world was taken," Scott said. "She was a wonderful woman. We can't forget this."
Denison's grandmother, Carol Denison Pierce, said she had mixed
"I feel sadness when I realize I won't hear her call me Grandma Fifi again," she said. "I feel happiness, too, when I hear about all the joy she brought to us."
Earlier in the week, Brianna Denison's mother, Bridgette Denison, said she would use her daughter's tragedy to press for stronger laws against repeat sex offenders and laws that would provide money for crime laboratories to process DNA.
She is president of the fledgling Bring Bri Justice Foundation, which will spearhead the legislative agenda.
"We're going to make sure it (her death) leads to some positive changes and not let her name die in vain," Lauren Denison said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)