FARGO — Cousin Lori Pladson was clear in her thoughts as she and others remembered murder victim Denise Anderson in a candlelight vigil on Thursday night, Aug. 8.
"This abuse just needs to stop," she said as more than 125 people gathered while the sun set. Candles were lit as mourners filled the lawn outside Anderson's apartment in south Fargo.
Anderson, 53, is believed to have died from traumatic injuries a week ago, according to police charges, when she was in the north Fargo apartment of her estranged boyfriend, Sheldon Davis, 44. Davis has been charged with murder and arson after his apartment was started on fire in an apparent attempt to cover up the killing, police have said.
Davis in a jailhouse interview late last week denied the charges, and said the last time he saw Anderson she was sleeping in his apartment. He said he was nowhere near the apartment when the fire was reported.
At Thursday night's vigil, Pladson said the "community needs to stand together" to end domestic abuse and that domestic violence law changes are necessary because, as Anderson's family has said, Anderson reported to police several times that Davis was threatening her and abusing her.
A friend, Bonnie Frith, said Anderson had told them about a month ago that she was "terrified" of Davis.
Police have stated that under the law they couldn't become more involved as "estranged friends" aren't covered under domestic violence laws.
A petition on Change.org by her family and friends calls for state lawmakers to add estranged partners to the list of those protected under the domestic violence laws, as well as a number of other types of relationships, including LGBT partners or a partner who shares an adopted child with a victim.
Pladson said she didn't want to blame police, but she said the death could have been prevented, as could other fatal cases of domestic abuse.
Family friend Tara Geller, who helped organize the vigil, said they wanted to raise awareness about domestic violence through the vigil, too, and to remember the "fun loving" Anderson "who would do anything for anybody."
"She will be missed by so many," Geller said.
The last week had "transformed us", she said, as the community saw the brutal effects of domestic violence.
She said they were going through sadness, grief, anger, shock and numbness.
"But we need to unite as a community and love one another," Geller said.
Pladson said Anderson came from a huge family, as a descendant of a family of 16 children.
She said they have about 600 members in their family tree.
Anderson, though, only had the one son, Nicholas Berlin, who told the crowd that his mother "loved everybody — every kind and every sort."
"She loved you for being you, that's who my mom was," he said as he gazed at the crowd.
He said she liked "having fun no matter what and she wasn't scared of anything. No one should be afraid of anybody, ever. She was 10-foot tall and bulletproof all the time. "
Berlin said in her death he was sure his mother "didn't go down without a fight."
Yet at this time, Berlin said he wanted to remember the "good stuff, the dancing and singing. That's what my mom would like you to remember her by — her acting goofy, acting silly . . . She would cry, too, but she would shake that off. And you guys should too."
Yet the concern and sadness hung in the air.
Megan Martin of Fargo, who lived with Anderson for about five years, said she "meant the world to me. I can't imagine life without her by my side."
"She would do everything for everyone else before herself," Martin said.
Even people who didn't know Anderson personally showed up. Angela Ybarra, who said she knows the cold and empty feelings of domestic abuse, said she was there to show support for Pladson and the family.
"We need to put a stop to it," she said about domestic violence.
Besides the petition, Martin added that there is also a GoFundMe page to help pay for Anderson's funeral expenses. Her funeral has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Moorhead Baptist Church.
Davis, who faces one count of murder, a Class AA felony, and one count each of arson and endangering by fire or explosion, both felonies, remains in jail under a $1 million cash bond.
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