Kensington vigil draws a crowd in support of victims' families

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Memorial for Kensington strangling victim, Nicole Piacentini, at Jasper and E. Cumberland Streets. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)

They stood in the darkness at the edge of a barren lot, two families united by the kind of searing emotional pain that is known only by parents who have buried their own children.

Darrah Goldberg and Leo Keller were at the lot last night, at Jasper and Cumberland streets, because a maniac known as the Kensington Strangler had turned their lives upside down.

Police have said Goldberg's daughter, Elaine, was his first victim, found dead in a lot on Ruth Street near Hart Lane on Nov. 3. Ten days later, the body of Keller's stepdaughter, Nicole Piacentini, was found in the lot at Jasper and Cumberland.

The families came together ostensibly for a community vigil that drew an unexpectedly large crowd of more than 100 people, many of whom carried candles and whispered prayers on the frigid night.

The grieving parents - clearly touched by the show of support - let out the emotions that have been rattling around inside their souls for the last month.

Goldberg, when asked what she would say to her daughter's killer, trembled as she said: "You bastard! You did this to my only daughter. He took my only daughter's life."

Keller said that Piacentini, a mother of four, "didn't deserve to die at the hands of someone that strangled and raped her. What's more animalistic than that?"

Those who attended the vigil said they wanted to show support for the families of the two murder victims.

They said they also wanted to show the rest of the city that despite the negative depiction of Kensington in news reports about the strangler, the neighborhood is filled with good, honest people.

"There are people who care, and I think you saw that tonight," said A.J. Thomson, a board member of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, which helped organize the vigil.

"I think if somebody's going to catch this character, it's going to be these people," he said.

"Hopefully they'll split this guy's head open before the cops get there."

On Thursday, police released surveillance footage of a man who choked and beat a woman in an ally on Sergeant Street near Kensington Avenue earlier this week.

The Citizens Crime Commission of Delaware Valleyis offering a $3,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest. Tipsters can call 215-546-TIPS.

Police officials described the man in the video as a person of interest in the two homicides, as well as in the sexual assaults and choking attacks of at least two other women.

"He's done so much damage," Darrah Goldberg said of the perpetrator.

"He's a monster and he needs to be caught."