Cries of justice for a murdered three year old girl are crossing state lines. Mia Caito was killed near Belleville in late January, allegedly by her mother's boyfriend. But Mia spent about a year of her short life in Arnold, being raised by Lasaunda and Mike Palmer. Monday night, Lasaunda`s friends organized a candlelight vigil to honor the little girl, and send a message that what happened to her should never happen again.
"She was a beautiful three year old girl that honestly, never did anything wrong," Lasaunda said to the crowd gathered at Arnold City Park. "This was senseless."
Mia's mother is Lasaunda's niece. Shortly after Mia was born, her mother needed help, so Mia came to the Palmers.
"She came when she was six months old and we took care of her until she was about 12 months," Lasaunda said. She moved to other family members and then returned to Lasaunda and Mike months later. Mike has two grown sons. She was the first little girl they`d ever had running around their home.
"She came back to us last February and stayed until July. Then my family came and thought it was best that she went back to her mother. She was a blessing for sure. She brought joy to our lives. I don`t have kids so she was like the kid I don't have," she said.
January 27 police say Mia was beaten to death by her mother's boyfriend Julian Gates. He is charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty. Lasaunda says neighbors heard gates abusing Mia, yet did not call for help.
The vigil was a time to mourn for Mia, and a time to cry for help for other children.
"Our main point is people need to speak up," said Kristal Hartsell, a friend and coworker of Lasaunda`s who helped organize the vigil with Holly Mulligan.
"If you think it`s abuse you`re probably right," Mulligan said. "You need to speak out then. We all need to step up and be that person that calls or snitches. You can call anonymously. You can call 911 and say you heard it and they won`t say who you are. You don`t have to worry about the person coming after you. It`s more important to save the child`s life. It could be your child. It`s somebody`s child."
The Palmers held on to each other tightly during the vigil. They said the support from their friends was the only thing guiding them through the grief, and the knowledge they gave Mia good times. And she gave them true happiness.
"Justice will be served," Lasaunda said. "One way or the other they`ll get theirs. I'm sure."