Hundreds gather for ‘Justice for Elaina’ vigil, marchWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Hundreds of family members, friends and supporters of 18-month-old Elaina Steinfurth gathered Sept. 6 in East Toledo for a prayer vigil, followed by a march around the block shouting “Justice for Elaina!” and a balloon release in a nearby park.
Family members, including Elaina’s grandfathers Terry Steinfurth Sr. and Richard Schiewe, father Terry Steinfurth Jr., Steinfurth Jr.’s girlfriend Becky Navaugh, cousin Ginger Smith and others, led the spirited march.
Steinfurth Sr. and Smith led the chant of “Justice for Elaina!” but Steinfurth Jr., Navaugh and Schiewe were largely silent as they walked.
“It’s just overwhelming,” Steinfurth Jr. said later, speaking quietly, his eyes hidden by sunglasses. “It’s overwhelming the support of the community.”
Steinfurth Jr. said his older daughter, 4-year-old Kylee, and his girlfriend’s children often ask about Elaina.
“Every day,” Steinfurth Jr. said. “It never stops.”
The gathering came a day after Toledo Police seized a box containing “immature human skeletal remains” from the rafters of the detached garage of the Federal Street home where Elaina was last seen June 2. The remains are awaiting DNA analysis for identification, but officials believe it’s likely to be Elaina.
“The bottom line is, we found what we believe may be Baby Elaina,” Toledo Police Chief Derrick Diggs said Sept. 6 at a news conference at the Downtown Safety Building.
Elaina’s mother Angela Steinfurth and her ex-boyfriend Steven W. King are in jail on charges of obstruction of justice. King’s trial date is set for Sept. 16. Steinfurth’s pretrial hearing is set for Sept. 25.
After news conference that morning, Steinfurth’s stepfather Schiewe called for unity.
“It’s not time to fight; it’s time to unite,” Schiewe said. “Let’s everybody quit going behind and bah-bah-bah-bah-bah behind everyone’s back. We’re all one family. It ain’t just the Steinfurths; it’s my family the Schiewes; it’s Angela’s family the Morieses; it’s all of us. It’s not about them and it’s not about me. It’s about Elaina. That’s what we’re here for, Elaina.”
At the vigil that evening, Linda Hall and her daughter Tracey Danielski, both of Perrysburg, said they have been regulars at the vigils and both volunteered as members of the search parties that scoured the area looking for signs of Elaina in the days and weeks after her disappearance. Hall grew up in East Toledo, where her late husband was friends with Steinfurth Sr.
“We came out because it’s just what you do. You don’t have to be blood to be family,” Danielski said. “It’s just so sad. You just cherish every day. My grandson is 3. I can’t imagine not knowing where he is. It makes me sick to think every time we walked down that street that baby was in that garage.”
Paula Chadwick of North Toledo said she lived at 704 Federal St., the home belonging to King’s mother, Julie King, for about five years growing up, while her mother dated King’s step-grandfather.
“It never, ever looked like that. It was beautiful then,” said Chadwick, who said she never met Elaina and hasn’t talked to the family in years, but came to the vigil because she has grandchildren close to Elaina’s age.
“[When I heard the address] I was like, ‘Whoa.’ Then I heard the name and it really blew me back,” Chadwick said. “It’s just a shame.”
Teiah Briscoe of East Toledo was among those who tied a balloon to the front porch of the nearby house that has served as a memorial and volunteer headquarters for the past three months. Briscoe said she came because she has a 2-year-old son and wanted to show her support.
“We all have babies,” Briscoe said. “It’s scary.”
“If it was our kid, we’d want people over here,” added her friend Angel Miller of East Toledo.
Felisha Popovich of East Toledo echoed that sentiment while placing a flower on the porch while holding her 7-month-old daughter Jada.
“I just feel bad for the family and the little girl especially,” Popovich said. “I have a daughter of my own so I know it has to be heartbreaking. I just wanted to show respect.”
Heather Adamson of East Toledo said she has attended every vigil held for Elaina and the crowd on Sept. 6 was “five times bigger” than any previous vigil.
Adamson, a volunteer advocate at the YWCA Battered Women’s Shelter, said she came to show her support.
“I work with battered women and battered children so this is very close to home for me,” Adamson said.
Vickie Linke of North Toledo knows the pain of losing a child. Her 20-year-old son, Nicholas Linke, was killed last year in a Toledo shooting. A “jailhouse march” for Elaina planned for 3 p.m. Sept. 8, starting at the Lucas County Courthouse and ending at the Lucas County Corrections Center, falls on the one-year anniversary of his death.
“This week’s been especially hard and then with this finding it brings it all back home again,” said Linke, who went to school with Steinfurth Sr. and his wife Brenda. She said she came to show support for the family, especially Navaugh, whose children and Steinfurth Jr.’s children were close.
“I came mostly for Becky,” Linke said.
After the march, Linke watched as a group of balloons was released from a nearby park.
“That one little balloon doesn’t want to leave,” Linke said, pointing to one lower than the rest. “That’s probably Elaina holding it down.”
After the balloon release, Steinfurth Sr. stood looking at the porch filled with balloons, stuffed animals, flowers, cards and candles. He carefully moved each lighted candle off the porch and onto the sidewalk for safety.
“I love it,” Steinfurth Sr. said of the number of people who came. “I’m glad to see so many people still care. I wish we could have had this kind of a turnout for a happier ending, but we’re going to get closure and that’s what we need.
“If Elaina’s watching it, she loves it,” he added, turning to his son Steinfurth Jr. and wrapping him in a hug. “Right? If Elaina’s watching it, she loves it.”