In a light drizzle Friday night, about 40 friends and family of 2-month-old Sophia Ludwiczak, who was shaken to death last month, gathered for a candlelight vigil at the gazebo in Kennedy Park in Vandergrift.
The child's father, Matthew Milisits, 30, is accused of shaking his infant daughter so hard when she wouldn't stop crying that she suffered fatal brain damage.
The baby was declared brain dead and taken off life support four days after the Nov. 15 incident.
Milisits is facing homicide, aggravated and simple assault and other charges. His formal arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 23 in Westmoreland County Court.
“The baby needs to be remembered,” said Amber Phillips, a friend from Apollo who was decorating the gazebo with purple and blue balloons.
“It's a tragedy on how that baby was lost.”
Lori Kiehl of Washington Township, who is the great aunt of Sophia, said, “We just want to do this in memory of Sophia. This gives us a little bit of peace.”
During the vigil, the mood was light as friends and family alternately hugged and sometimes laughed together.
But there was no mistaking the contempt for Sophia's death.
The color of the balloons was significant, as purple is the color for shaken baby syndrome and blue signifies child abuse, said Jeannie Sowers of Apollo, a friend of the family.
Mourners released the balloons and also held lit candles to honor Sophia's memory.
“The support mechanism is important,” Sowers said. “These are always bad things, but this time of year, such a loss makes it even worse.”
Sophia's mother, Samantha Ludwiczak of North Apollo, is taking her child's memory into the holidays and celebrating her life.
“We have a Christmas tree ornament with Sophia's, face and we hung a stocking for her,” Ludwiczak said.
She asked her two other young children what Sophia would like, and they chimed in, “A binky and a rattle.”
Ludwiczak said that she wants to thank everyone for their continued love, support and prayers.
“This is a preventable thing that should have never had to happen,” she said.
“Keep your family close,” Ludwiczak said, “and never let your children forget how much you love them.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.