Large crowd expected tonight at Reno vigil for victim of serial rapist |

Large crowd expected tonight at Reno vigil for victim of serial rapist

A memorial for Brianna Denison will be held tonight in Reno.

RENO ” Dozens of volunteers who aided in a monthlong search for Brianna Denison were among more than 100 people expected to gather for a candlelight vigil tonight in the field where her body was found a week ago, the victim of a serial rapist.

Flowers, teddy bears and blue ribbons were piled beside a white cross in the field in south Reno where Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and others planned to remember the young woman who was abducted early Jan. 20 from a friend’s house on the edge of the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.

An autopsy conducted on her body found Feb. 15 near a business park about 8 miles from that house determined she’d been strangled and left there at least a week before.

Her disappearance and subsequent manhunt for the suspect who has been tied by DNA to at least two other attacks on women in the area since October has generated a huge outpouring of support from the community.

“They had two vigils when all this first started so we thought it would be kind of neat to have a candlelight vigil at the site where she was found,” said Doug Seymour, a cousin of Denison’s who helped man a command center during the search for her and organized the vigil.

“We thought it would be nice for the community and all the volunteers who worked so hard to pay their respects if they wanted to for a sense of closure,” he said.

A formal public memorial service was scheduled Saturday night at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Denison’s mother, Bridgette, and brother, Brighton, were to attend that service but were staying away from the vigil due to the large crowd expected, family spokeswoman Jennifer Bushman said.

Seymour said about 50 volunteers were at the command center when he received the telephone call last Saturday morning from police who confirmed the body was hers.

“There were a lot of tears, but they all immediately asked, `What can we do?” he said.

“They went out and pulled up all the signs (with her picture) that said `Bring Bri Back’ and we changed all the signs” to say “Bring Bri Justice,” Seymour said.

The family asked community members to tie a blue ribbon – Denison’s favorite color – on tree branches and light poles in her memory and numerous local stores reported they’d sold out of such ribbons last weekend.

“Last Sunday I went down to the memorial just to be around and a black car pulled up,” Seymour said.

“I put a ribbon on the antenna and four hours later I was still there tying ribbons on cars that stopped by,” he said. “It’s really great to see the community pull together like this.”

Denison graduated from Reno High School in 2006 and was attending Santa Barbara City College in California when she was kidnapped while visiting her hometown during winter break.

Her obituary, which ran Friday in the Reno Gazette-Journal, said she was “known for her million-dollar-smile and sparkling blue eyes, her tremendous outgoing nature and compassion.”

“She was lovingly known by her mother as Breezy, because she reminded her of a breath of fresh air on a cool summer day. … Her ability to connect with people from all walks of life became part of her radiant personality.”

The search for her killer has focussed in recent days on a pair of women’s panties that were found with her body. The black thong underwear with “Pink Panther” characters had DNA from a woman other than Denison as well as DNA of the serial rapist who kidnapped and strangled her.

The male was from the same man who committed at least two sexually motivated crimes against other young college women in the area over the past four months, Reno police Lt. Robert McDonald said.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the unknown DNA belonged to another woman who may have been assaulted but so far have had no one come forward to say the underwear was hers.

“Our belief is the suspect in this case left these panties there either to taunt the police, to taunt the community, or somehow didn’t realize he had them and dropped them,” Reno Police Chief Michael Poehlman said earlier this week.

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