ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WKBW) — The last Christmas tree Rachael Wierzbicki decorated still stands in her childhood home. Her parents, Mark and Lauri, say they have no plans to take it down.
"She was so full of life, full of energy," Lauri said. Mark added, "She was one in a million."
In late November 2018 -- five days after Thanksgiving -- Wierzbicki was fatally shot in South Buffalo. Police say her ex-boyfriend, Shane Casado, shot and killed her. He is charged with second degree murder and set to go to trial the end of February.
"I still feel like I'm living outside my body. I still feel like I'm not whole and I'm not one," Lauri said. Her daughter was one of four domestic violence homicides in Erie County that year, according to the Erie County District Attorney's Office. By 2019, that number tripled to at least 12 domestic violence homicides.
"I get up for her and every day, I think I'm one day closer to seeing her," Lauri said. She continues to hold her daughter closer with Rachael's ashes in a pendant worn as a necklace.
It was in the weeks following Rachael's death the Western New York community came out in full force by sending donations to the Family Justice Center in Rachael's memory. Her parents decided soon after to make it their mission to help others like their daughter.
"We just hope to give people hope," Lauri said. In April 2019, Rachael Warrior Foundation was created. The not-for-profit has already helped other domestic violence victims, like Jessica Cameron -- the young woman set on fire by her boyfriend outside of a Tonawanda Tim Hortons just weeks after Rachael was killed.
"We're just very, very proud of her. Like I said, I've always known that she was going to do something great with her life, I just didn't know it was going to be post(mortem)," Lauri said.
Two big events anchor the foundation --"Rachael's Celebration of Life" set in June around her birthday and the "Let Love Soar Gala" coming up on February 8th.
For tickets for the gala, click here.
If you are in danger, please call 911 for assistance or the 24-hour domestic violence hotlines at (716) 884–6000 (Haven House) or 716-862-HELP (4357). More information about Haven House and available resources can be found here.