ELYRIA — Angel Vincent loved feeding the birds fries in Ely Square, family and friends remember. While living in Elyria, the 16-year-old loved spending time in the park, especially by the fountain, known to those gathered there Saturday as the girl’s favorite spot.
More than two dozen friends and family members came together on the rainy afternoon to remember Angel, whose 47th birthday would have been Saturday. Angel was kidnapped, raped and murdered 30 years ago on Jan. 31, 1988, and her body was found on Cleveland’s west side months after her disappearance, stuffed inside two construction barrels placed end-to-end. Her killer, Darryl Durr, of Cleveland, was executed in 2010 for the crime, after spending 22 years on death row since his 1988 conviction.
Angel’s mother, Norma Jean Godsey — formerly O’Nan — made the more than 400-mile trip from her home in Monticello, Ky., last week to prepare her daughter’s birthday commemoration. In the 30 years since Angel’s murder, Godsey said she hasn’t forgiven Durr.
“(Durr) didn’t ask for forgiveness, so I didn’t have to tell him I forgave him. I really was going to tell him I forgave him, because I wanted to and I wanted to let it go. He admitted he killed her and then he took it back … He didn’t ask God to forgive him for murdering my daughter, he went out in a breathe saying he didn’t do it, so I know he’s not in heaven, because you don’t go to heaven unless you ask God for your forgiveness.”
She recognized that this may have made it harder for her to move on, something other attendees noted.
Her childhood friend, Stephen Harris, of Vermilion, watched Angel grow up. He said she was like a little sister to him, and “so damn cute,” and said what happened was something none of them would ever have expected.
“Norma Jean has not forgotten about it at all,” Harris said. “I can’t believe that after 30 years she still mourns. I wouldn’t know how I’d feel if I lost my daughter, I got two beautiful daughters and I don’t know what I would do … because it’s never happened to me.”
Angel’s childhood friend, Julie Zerby, came from Clarksville, Pa., for the vigil. She remembers hanging out with Angel on the weekends, “being typical teenagers.” She said she and the three other girls in their friend group were inconsolable during classes at Elyria High School when they heard the news that Angel had been identified.
“I lost my best friend at 15 years old,” Zerby said. “I remember the day finding out that her body had been discovered … I found out at school is how I found out, and I freaked … We all freaked, there were four of us that were a clique, and we were in two different classrooms and the poor teachers didn’t have a clue what was going on, my brother had to explain to them why we were all freaked.”
Of those four friends, Zerby was the only one able to make the trip to Elyria, and felt it was important for her to do so to support Godsey and remember her friend.
“I called Norma Jean and out of the four of us girls that hung around, I was the only one that could physically get here,” she said. “One of them lives in Arizona, one of them left for vacation (Friday) and the other one is battling double breast cancer, and I talked to Norma Jean and she kind of said that ‘Julie, you were Angel’s best friend, please if you can, please come.’”
Arleen Drewry, Angel’s aunt, flew in from Magnolia, Texas, last week to help her sister organize the event. Angel and her mother had lived throughout the United States, including with Drewry for a time in Texas. Drewry said her niece had a standing invitation to stay with them.
“When she disappeared we thought she was coming to Texas, so we waited and waited and waited for her,” Drewry said. “Sometimes she got mad at her mom, she would just come live with me in Texas.”
Drewry said she remembers teaching Angel to ride a bike in her driveway, and the girl’s love for roller skating as she got older. Godsey remembers her daughter’s dream was to work at a Sonic Drive-Thru, because she loved to roller skate.
Angel reportedly loved animals and planned to be a veterinarian. In her daughter’s memory — and to have some company — Godsey adopts dogs and takes care of them.
“I rescue dogs because what else have I got,” she said.
As family and friends found their way to the park, the group gathered in the gazebo for Godsey to read a eulogy. Rita Hart, of Vermilion, a close friend of Godsey’s, stood beside her with Drewry, as Godsey worked her way through the speech.
“I’m so thankful that you were able to join me to celebrate the life of my dear, departed daughter …” Godsey read. “She will be in our hearts and minds forever because of the pure and loving heart that she had. It used to drive me crazy when she would give her clothes away, because she would give the shirt off her back if you asked her. In my life, I have never found a kinder person … I know in my heart she is in heaven laughing with all the other kids …”
Afterward, the group stepped out from under the gazebo and released handfuls of balloons – pink daisies, happy birthday balloons and others — into the clouds.
“Bye, baby,” Godsey said, as the balloons drifted away. “I love you.”
This is the first time the group has gathered together to celebrate Angel’s birthday. For Godsey, the number of friends and family who traveled to Ely Square reminded her how important Angel was to everyone.
“It means that I know she was loved,” she said. “She was very well-respected because Angel loved so much ... She was one of them that God took her because anybody could talk her into doing anything. And God knew she was going to have a hard life because she believed everybody, she trusted everybody.”
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