One year later: 14-year-old Alianna DeFreeze remembered on anniversary of murder

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Alianna DeFreeze, the 14-year-old seventh-grade girl waiting for her bus to school, was senselessly murdered one year ago.

Rather than mourn the death of the prep school student, Alianna's family and the community will share memories of the girl who many say made their lives special.

Friends and family release purple balloons Friday afternoon at Lakeview Cemetery in remembrance of her.

Police say Alianna, known for her contagious smile, was kidnapped near the intersection of East 93rd Street and Kinsman Boulevard in Jan. 2017. She was then sexually assaulted, murdered, and dumped in an abandoned home on Cleveland's east side.

Alianna's body was found days later in Cleveland City Councilman Blaine Griffin's district. He released a statement calling today a sad anniversary:

"We want to honor her memory and we want the person who did this horrible crime brought to justice. In honoring her life, I am currently talking with Fuller Avenue residents about what would be appropriate to mark the memory of her life. Every life lost to violence is a loss to all."

The trial for her alleged murderer, 44-year-old Christopher Whitaker, commenced recently with jury selection currently underway. He has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape, burglary, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse.

Whitaker is a registered sex offender with a criminal record that dates back to 1998.

Opening statements are expected to start as early as Monday.

The DeFreeze family has started The Alianna DeFreeze Let's Make A Change Foundation to better protect children and provide transportation to kids who face challenges getting to school.

They have also proposed Senate Bill 82, or the "Alianna Alert," The Bill would require schools to call parents within one hour of the start of the school day if their child has been marked absent. Senator Sandra Williams co-sponsored the Bill says she hopes to get an amended version on the floor within the next few weeks.

Mayor Frank Jackson's Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative is another strategy aimed at neighborhood safety. With the plan, which is currently underway, blighted and abandoned homes will be demolished from Cleveland neighborhoods.

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