A small group of Taylor Marshall's family and friends came together this week to celebrate what would have been her 23rd birthday.
Around a dozen or so people enjoyed some pizza and chocolate cake near Marshall's gravesite Thursday evening, calling back to a more innocent time before her unexpected death in September.
"Taylor's favourite things were pizza and chocolate cake, and she would eat that every day if she was given a choice," Patti Marshall-Delavalle, Taylor's aunt, told the Sault Star Friday morning.
Despite the good food and colourful decorations, Patti said Thursday's gathering still served as a grim reminder of the raw emotions so many people are feeling in the wake of her niece's murder.
Marshall was stabbed to death inside her John Street residence on Sept. 7, the victim of a random attack according to police.
Steven Jones of Toronto is being charged with killing Marshall and committing a violent assault on the Sault Ste. Marie boardwalk that same day, although these offences haven't been proven in court.
While some time has passed, many members of Marshall's family are still reeling from such a senseless and cruel act, especially her father Ron.
In a Facebook post published Thursday morning, Ron Marshall describes the last two months as "heartbreaking and numbing" due to his loss of "the best daughter any father could of ask[ed] for."
"All I have left is amazing memories of her life and our happiness which I will hold onto forever," he wrote.
"She will be the first person I think of each morning and the last person on my mind every night for the rest of my life. She will never be forgotten and loved more everyday until we meet again."
Marshall grew up in Sault Ste. Marie alongside members of her family and recently moved out of her father's home to live with her boyfriend.
According to her aunt Patti, Marshall was just starting to get a foothold in the workforce, securing a part-time job at CIBC and attending a job interview at a local gym the morning before she was killed.
"We want people to know how much she loved her family, and how vibrant she was and that she was just starting her life with her career and experiences," Patti said.
"I think the fact that it was so random and could have happened to anybody is a huge struggle for us."
To get some degree of closure, Patti told the Star the family will be closely following Jones' upcoming court proceedings, although they don't expect this case will be resolved for at least a couple years.
"There's nothing we can do, but as the trial looms closer we certainly will be much more vocal in that area, whereas right now we're really in the grieving process," she said.
"We know we have a long road ahead of us to fight for that justice, for sure."
Patti also wanted to use her niece's 23rd birthday to thank members of the community for their emotional support during this difficult time, which means the world to her and Taylor's father.
"The support from friends and the community has been really amazing to my brother," she said. "He's had lots of outreach, from people we don't know to people we haven't heard from [in a while] and it's really heartfelt."
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Submitted, Sault Star