It was evident how many people were impacted by the all-too-short life of Miya Yman Maeling Marcano.
At a celebration of life for the slain 19-year-old woman on Wednesday night, it was standing room only, with hundreds of people filling the Cooper City Church of God.
The wall-to-wall crowd, dotted with shirts in Marcano’s favorite color, royal blue, heard stories from friends and family about the young woman from Pembroke Pines who many described as vibrant, beautiful and kind.
Marcano, a 19-year-old sophomore at Valencia College in Orlando, went missing Sept. 24. Her family realized something was wrong when she missed a flight home to South Florida that day.
Eight days later, police said they discovered her body, taped at the hands, legs and mouth, in a wooded area near the Tymber Skan apartments in Orlando.
The person of interest in Marcano’s death, 27-year-old Armando Manuel Caballero, was found dead by suicide days after the teen went missing.
Caballero worked at Arden Villas, the complex where Marcano lived and also worked, as a maintenance employee.
He is believed to have used a maintenance key to enter Marcano’s apartment before waiting for her and killing her, leaving her body in the wooded area where she was later found, police said.
Police said Caballero had made several unwanted romantic advances that Marcano rejected.
Friends of Marcano who spoke at Wednesday night’s service called her a princess. In life, they said her graceful manner, her beautiful smile and her caring nature made her fit for the title.
In death, that held true. Marcano’s royal blue and gold casket was adorned with a photo of her in an elegant, colorful dance costume. A bejeweled golden crown on top of a small white pillow sat above her head, with sprays of blue, pink and white flowers on either side of her casket.
As her family and friends trickled into the church’s auditorium, photos of Marcano’s life greeted them on a projector, accompanied by the upbeat Caribbean music that was an integral part of her culture and life. Her father, Marlon Marcano, is a popular DJ in South Florida known professionally as DJ Eternal Vibes.
They saw photos of her growing up, displaying things that they said never changed about her: a radiant smile, big personality and her love for her large, tight-knit family.
Family members embraced in front of her casket, a few placing their hands on top of it as they watched the photos and videos on the screen, remembering her as she was: dancing, smiling and full of life.
Mourners share memories, appeal for stronger protections for renters
For hours, over a dozen people shared their memories about the teen. One girl remembered how Marcano became her first friend in elementary school. Another remembered seeing Marcano in the front office at school one day, crying because she missed her mom. Through tears and with shaky hands, another friend said she and Marcano shared secrets, outfits and many nights of dancing at the yearly Miami Broward Carnival to celebrate their Caribbean culture.
One of her teachers from Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines shared a poem she wrote in Marcano’s honor, equating her smile to the shine of the moon and remembering the positive attitude she was known for.
An uncle of Marcano spoke directly to the hundreds in attendance, calling on them to advocate for laws to be strengthened to better protect renters to prevent something similar from happening to anybody else.
“We as Caribbean people, we have culture,” the uncle said. “We were brought up with culture. Use it, not only for Carnival. But use it for situations like this. Use it that this will never, ever happen again.”
Several other family friends used their minutes on stage to speak to the young men and women, urging them to speak up if they see abusive or violent signs that could hint at deeper issues, signs that if someone picked up on may have saved Marcano’s life.
People from all backgrounds, from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Jamaica attended Marcano’s memorial Wednesday, a sign that her life brought people together, said Marlon Hill, a Miami lawyer, philanthropist, activist and family friend who spoke at the service.
“Miya’s life brought these islands together,” Hill said.
With each story shared, those who gathered to celebrate Marcano’s life were helping to carry out the words engraved into the teen’s casket: Long Live Miya.