Annual vigil honors Charlotte 20-year-old brutally killed 4 years ago

CHARLOTTE — Four years ago, a Charlotte family was frantically trying to find their loved one, 20-year-old Mary Collins. She lived with a disability, and they knew something was wrong when she didn’t return home and her phone was turned off.

Days later, detectives would begin one of the most heinous murder investigations in Charlotte. Mary was found to have been brutally killed.


Her family has spoken to Channel 9’s Hunter Sáenz frequently as the case has progressed. Now, they’re sharing how they’re keeping Mary’s voice alive as they seek justice.

To Mia Alderman, time has not been healing.

“It’s both forever, and doesn’t even exist,” she said.

She told Sáenz she remembers the different qualities that Collins, her late granddaughter, had.

“I still like have a visceral feeling that I can go and get her,” Alderman said.

Thursday marked four years since Collins’ grandmother last saw her at her home -- on March 28, 2020. The street, which is now stamped with “Mary’s Voice,” is the last spot Alderman heard her speak.

“These beings think that they silenced Mary with what they did, but they’re wrong about that,” she said.

An Uber picked Collins up in her south Charlotte neighborhood and drove her up to NoDa. That’s where police say she was killed.

Detectives said the 20-year-old was stabbed more than 130 times, wrapped in plastic, and stuffed into a mattress in an apartment at The Yards at NoDa.

“They slaughtered her like a farm animal,” Alderman said.

Mary’s body wasn’t found until April 4 -- eight days later. It’s why every year, for those eight days, an online and international vigil is held. Friends, family and strangers post pictures lighting candles for Mary while keeping her voice alive.

“It’s for Mary,” Alderman said. “And it’s also for all people who have a disability, who have an invisible-type disability. Because something needs to be done about crime against disabled people.”

>> If you would like to take part in the ongoing vigil, click here.

During the vigil, Mary’s story is told. Each day, they go through what allegedly happened to Collins before her body was discovered.

“They are able to see Mary for who she is and see her light,” Alderman said.

It was a bright light her grandmother will forever remember.

“Quirky, funny,” she said, adding, “She loved to take pictures, she had a wonderful eye. She was extremely shy.”

But though her gentle granddaughter is gone, she’s never far from Alderman’s heart.

As for the murder case, four people were arrested and charged. Some were friends of Collins’.

Kelly Lavery pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.

Lavi Pham pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. He’s awaiting trial, as is James Salerno, who is also charged with first-degree murder. He’s out on bond.

America Diehl was charged with concealment, failure to report a death and accessory after the fact. She, too, is out on bond.

(WATCH BELOW: Judge sets bond for man accused of killing NoDa woman with disabilities)

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.

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