The wick on the red scented candle had nearly reached the bottom of the votive, and the flame – the last remaining out of the more than a dozen candles that had accumulated at the makeshift memorial for Kelly Marelich – flickered wildly as a breeze crept through the alley.
It was here, between the stucco wall of a dentist’s office and the fading red letter letters of a sporting goods store, just more than a week ago that Manteca Police received a tip that the body of a young woman, later identified as the 22-year-old Marelich, was dumped in trash enclosure.
Now, while detectives work to find out who killed her and what led up to her death on March 15, a series of flowers, cards, balloons, stuffed animals and candles adorn a corner of where she was discovered. A hand-drawn message, in black chalk, lines the center of the pavement and a piece of white paper beneath the memorial catches the growing number of scrawls and messages to a girl that many said left a passionate mark on the world.
“She was the most loving, caring girl you could pray to have as a friend,” wrote a friend from England who said she’d known Marelich for six years. “She was an angel walking the earth – she made everything feel more positive, like a beam of sunlight on your face. As intelligent as she was beautiful, even a casual conversation with her educated you on something you hadn’t known before.
“She will be missed beyond words, by so many, for the rest of our lives.”
The community has also shown it cares. When Marelich’s sister posted on an online fundraising site that the family needed to raise $1,000 to help defray the costs of the funeral expenses, nearly $2,100 came in – in just over three days. Any money, sister Candace Henderson Thomason wrote, not used for the sake of the funeral would be donated to a charity in Marelich’s honor. A celebration of life service will be held this Friday at 4 p.m. at P.L. Fry and Son’s Chapel at 290 North Union Road.
Manteca Police officials have remained tight-lipped about the investigation, other than to say that it’s active and its ongoing. Detectives elicited the help of a forensics team from the California Department of Justice crime lab in Ripon last week when a tip led them to the Pacific Motel on Moffat Boulevard – a spot they believe that Marelich may have spent time at the night of her death. Police haven’t ruled out the possibility that she was also killed there.
Marelich’s murder marks Manteca’s first homicide in more than two years – dating back to Halloween night 2011 when a son stabbed his mother in a new subdivision across from Del Webb.
Anybody with any information pertaining to the case is encouraged to contact Detective Steve Schluer of the Manteca Police Department at 209.456.8210 or Crime Stoppers at 209.823.8210. Anybody reporting information that leads to an arrest may be eligible for a $1,000 reward, and can remain completely anonymous.