A line of orchids created a path on both ends of the Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami, leading the way to an improvised altar for Oluwatoyin Salau.
Standing over the landmark, as the night fell on Tuesday, about a dozen Black women got ready to speak to an audience of about 200 community activists and residents.
Some who attended the community vigil laid down posters and art prints remembering “Toyin,” a 19-year-old Black Lives Matter activist who police found dead in Tallahassee on Saturday alongside 75-year-old Victoria Sims.
Salau was last seen in Tallahassee after a protest on June 6. Sims was reported missing June 11.
Shortly before her disappearance, Salau had described on Twitter a gruesome assault she endured from a man who had offered her a home for the night.
“Oluwatoyin was a freedom fighter... She did not ask to be a martyr for justice,” one of the posters read.
Tuesday’s vigil was a somber scene for a community mourning the loss of a Florida activist whose vocal presence at anti-police brutality protests had not gone unnoticed. But the gathering was also an opportunity for activists to amplify the stories of Black women, and the harassment and sexual violence many said they experience from their own communities.
“Toyin isn’t with us anymore because we didn’t do enough,” one activist told the crowd. “What can I do better when it comes to protecting Black women, to make them feel safe, to make them feel supported, to make them feel seen, to make them feel heard?”
Salau was found dead on June 13 in Tallahassee after disappearing earlier this month, leading friends and fellow activists on a frantic search after she sent a series of tweets describing being sexually assaulted by a man who gave her a ride and offered her a place to stay.
Sims’ body was found alongside Salau’s at a house in Tallahassee, according to police.
A 49-year-old man identified as Aaron Glee Jr. has been charged with murder and kidnapping in connection with their deaths, police said.
The deaths of Salau and Sims remain under investigation, Tallahassee police said. They didn’t say how the women had died or if they had any connection with each other or with the suspect.
According to the Daily Mail, Glee’s mother said her son called her from jail on Sunday night and confessed to strangling the young activist. He also told his mother he had killed Sims, whom he called his “white grandmother,” according to the report.
In the hours before she disappeared on June 6, Salau tweeted about a sexual assault that had taken place earlier that day. In a series of posts, she said she was “molested” by a Black man who offered her a ride and a place to sleep. Salau also said she had taken refuge at a local church to escape what she called “unjust living conditions,” according to her tweets.
Since news broke of her death, several people have taken to social media to remember the young activist. The hashtag #JusticeForToyin and Salau’s name trended on Twitter, with hundreds of thousands of tweets sent out about her disappearance and death.
Two petitions on Change.org have received more than 405,000 signatures as of Tuesday night. One of them, created by Hana Bangura of New York, described Salau as an “avid protester for the Black Lives Matter movement” who was also battling homelessness. The petition asks Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Tallahassee police department “to do their job, and investigate this crime.”
“This young girl cried for HELP and she never got it,” says the petition. Both petitions have gone viral as celebrities including film director and former NFL player Matthew Cherry and rapper Yung Baby Tate have shared them on Twitter.
“Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins, actress Alyssa Milano and Ben Crump, who is the attorney for the George Floyd family, also expressed support for justice for Salau.
“I lived in Tallahassee for five years. It’s the state capital. No 19-year-old child should be housing insecure in the capital of any state in this nation. Our protections aren’t protecting anybody,” Jenkins said on Twitter.