Nine years ago today was the last time that Lizasuain DeJesus saw her youngest daughter, Iriana Morales DeJesus, alive, on a Hunting Park street.
Five days later, after neighborhood searches and pleas for her child's return, a local landlord discovered the body of the 5-year-old girl on the second floor of a two-story building, a block from her home, wrapped partially in a trash bag. "Nena," as she was affectionately called, had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
Tonight at 6, Lizasuain DeJesus and others will pay tribute to the pigtailed youngster with a smiling face at the ninth annual Memorial Prayer Service at Pike and Fairhill streets. Iriana would have been 13 years old today.
A local pastor and members of the Antiviolence Partnership of Philadelphia will speak, DeJesus said.
Iriana was survived by her mother and an older sister, Iyanna, now 17.
On March 21, 2007, DeJesus said, police told her that DNA evidence had led them to Alexis Flores, 25, an undocumented immigrant who was booted back to his home country of Honduras in 2005.
Flores was arrested in Arizona in 2004, four years after Iriana's death in 2000, on charges of forgery. Arizona law-enforcement officials later entered his DNA into a national database, and it matched genetic material taken from the scene of Iriana's grisly murder, police said. But by then, Flores had been deported.
He remains a fugitive from justice, and has been placed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list.
"I feel as though my life can move on, but I can't, I have no justice," DeJesus said yesterday, after picking up donated Tastykakes and pretzels for the memorial.
"This guy is out there, running loose in the mountains, running around where there's no TV."
DeJesus said that the kids living on her block inspire her to "keep going on in life. They put positive energy in me. It's a shame," she added.
"I need her to be remembered forever."
DeJesus said that she has asked City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez and other civic leaders to help her convert an empty lot on Reese Street into a playground in Iriana's memory.