For a while a wide rainbow hovered over the big park in Mission early Thursday evening, then the heavy rain clouds rolled back to let the setting sun beam down on the community gathered to grieve one its shining lights.
By the time darkness fell, at least 400 people came to share their grief at a tearful candlelight vigil at Fraser River Heritage Park for Rachel Pernosky.
The bubbly 18-year-old mother disappeared from her Kite Street apartment in Mission sometime early on March 16 under suspicious circumstances. Her body was discovered on March 19 off Old Orchard Road on Chilliwack Mountain. A homicide investigation is underway.
For more than two hours, mourners stood hushed in a semi-circle around the park's gazebo. They held candles, cupping cold hands around tiny flames flickering in the chilly wind. At one point a tall blonde woman sang a few verses of Amazing Grace, and others joined in.
Among those paying their respect were people who never knew her, but shared the heartache with her family and friends.
"We're just here to support the family. We're parents too," said Bob and Julie, who were Rachel's neighbours. Julie was also one of hundreds of friends and residents who searched for the young woman after she disappeared.
The crowd of mostly young women and men, Rachel's friends and peers, huddled in groups and sobbed quietly. Their faces showed their grief and their disbelief that one of their own had been taken so cruelly.
In the gazebo, dozens of candles blazed on a long table and on the floor, illuminating flowers, cards, teddies, and Rachel's smiling face peering out from portraits and collages of moments in her life with loved ones. One of the most heartbreaking was a photo of Rachel with her sleeping infant son - her face glows with a mother's love as she looks into the camera.
Rachel's family and the family of her son's father also attended with her one-year-old son Marco, to view the tributes at the memorial and to shed more tears.
The vigil was organized by best friend Cassidy Scott, 18, who knew Rachel from childhood.
"Anyone who knew Rachel knew she was a very happy, loving person," she told the crowd, fighting back tears. "We'll all really miss Rachel. She'd be very touched to see how much everyone cared, and how much everyone loved her."
"We know she's looking down on us, smiling. She'd very touched to know everyone is here tonight for her."
Cassidy said later she was deeply grateful for the community's overwhelming response during the search and for the vigil.
"It was great to see all these people come out to support the family. There were a lot of people and a lot of tears," she said.
People at the vigil spoke of Rachel as an "amazing mom," and a happy, positive and fun-loving young woman who was kind and easy to talk to.
"She's just a sweet silly girl who lights up a room, with a smile is even brighter," Cassidy's mom told the gathering. "Keep her alive in your heart, and be thankful you had time to spend with her."
Cassidy's dad also reminded people that the emotional ordeal is far from over for Rachel's family and loved ones.
"Your support is very much needed. Please go out of your way just to check with the parents and the family and the friends. It's taken its toll on everybody, so please, don't forget, always remember."
Cassidy said she hopes people will remember Rachel as a happy person, and how much she loved her son Marco, who turned one in February. She'd take him on outings to the Vancouver Aquarium, but "mostly she'd love to spend time playing with him, hugging him, kissing him. She was a great mom. He's the spitting image of her," said Cassidy.
"I remember when Marco took his first couple of steps, Rachel was so happy. I'd never seen her so happy."
- A benefit concert by local band Random Dander in Mission on Friday raised more than $4,500 for the Pernosky family. See www.facebook.com/randomdander. Donations can continue to be made online at goo.gl/txomG until the end of this week.
- Those interested in donating directly to Marco's trust fund can go to Sue's Copy Place at 33123 First Ave., or to Grab-A-Java at 33093 Seventh Ave., both in Mission.
IHIT hunt for Mission teen's killer
While no arrests have been made, homicide investigators have several "persons of interest" on their radar in their search to find the killer of Mission teen Rachel Pernosky, 18.
The young mother went missing sometime after midnight on March 16. A neighbour saw Pernosky at about 12:30 a.m. having a drink in what seemed to be a friendly conversation with a man outside her Kite Street suite in Mission. They were gone half an hour later, said the neighbour.
Pernosky was reported missing at 6 p.m. Saturday when her family became concerned after she didn't show up for a regular visit with her son, and her usually chatty comments on her social media accounts fell silent.
After a desperate search in Mission by family and friends, her body was found at about 5:30 p.m. on March 19 on steep and remote hillside off Old Orchard Road on Chilliwack Mountain.
The RCMP's Integrated Homicide Investigation Team has several "persons of interest" they are interviewing, said IHIT spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Pound on Friday.
Police believe it was targeted attack, said Pound.
"We believe this was not a random act, and that women in the community do not a have reason to be worried," Pound said last week.
She added that more than 30 police officers are on the hunt for Pernosky's killer.
Pernosky's one-year-old son, Marco, was with his biological father when she went missing. He has custody of their child and police say he is not a suspect.
Anyone with information about Pernosky's disappearance and homicide is asked to call the IHIT tip line at 778-290-5290 or, if you wish to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.