The confessed killer of single mom Erika Verdecia used heavy rocks to sink her body into the murky canal that might have become her watery grave.
Verdecia, 33, was last seen by her family on Sept. 24, when she walked out of the Sunrise home she shared with her parents and never came back.
Her body was found on Oct. 16 in a Davie canal along Orange Drive after the killer’s girlfriend tipped off police.
On Sunday, dozens of Verdecia’s family and friends gathered at the same spot just west of State Road 7 to honor her with prayers, butterflies and memories that will never die.
They wore bright blue shirts bearing her name and image and the words, “Fly High Baby Girl.”
They planted a waist-high wooden cross in the ground adorned with white, blue and purple flowers and balloons.
They cried and hugged and shared stories of the dynamo daughter, the spirited sister, the fun-loving friend. They said her accused killer was someone she barely knew.
Eric Pierson, 54, confessed on Oct. 16 to killing Verdecia on Sept. 25, an arrest affidavit shows. Pierson told police he stabbed Verdecia with a screwdriver four times — twice in the neck and once in each eye.
He is now in jail facing charges of first-degree murder.
Pierson has killed before. In 1995, he was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Kristina Whitaker. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison but served 25.
In 1985, he was convicted of attempted first-degree murder after breaking into a Davie woman’s house and cutting her throat and hands with a kitchen knife. He was sentenced to 18 years but served four.
Carmen Verdecia is now on a mission to make sure her daughter did not die in vain.
“We loved her and we are looking for justice,” she said. “We are going to pass Erika’s law. No more murderers out in the street. If you murder someone you are never getting out of jail. You will never see the light of day. We will make sure of that.”
Verdecia’s parents are both from Cuba. She was born in Miami Beach and graduated from South Plantation High.
She leaves behind 6-year-old daughter Nat’lee Reyes, who will now be raised by her grandparents with help from her sister and two brothers.
Like so many others at the vigil, Heather Gagliardi could not hold back the tears.
Gagliardi, a childhood friend from Hollywood, says there’s no way Verdecia knew about Pierson’s past or she would not have been hanging out with him.
“She loved her daughter so much,” Gagliardi said. “That’s what hurts me the most — that she left Nat’lee behind. I’ll be with watching over her the rest of her life. No little girl deserves to lose her mom like that.”
On Sunday, Nat’lee took on a touching role in the tearful ceremony honoring her slain mother: She released the butterflies, sending the creatures on toward freedom.
“Fly high,” one woman said as the grieving crowd let out an awed sigh. “Fly high.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan