A candlelight vigil was held for Julia Niswender Friday night on Eastern Michigan University’s campus. Niswender’s friends, family and about 200 members of the EMU community attended the event.
Among those gathered were Niswender’s parents Jim and Kim Turnquist, twin sister Jennifer Niswender, younger sister Madison Turnquist, EMU President Susan Martin, provost Kim Schatzel and police chief Bob Heighes.
Rachel Weyhing and Phillip Cristoforo, EMU students and close friends of Julia, hosted the event.
“Tonight, we gather with heavy hearts,” Weyhing said. “Tonight we come together as family and friends and as a community as a whole to remember a girl whose smile could light up a room and whose laugh could turn your whole day around.”
Kassie Bruck, Jennifer Niswender’s best friend and a good friend of Julia, thanked those in attendance for their support of the Niswender family.
“The family is heartbroken, and they really cannot thank you, so I am going to do it on their behalf,” Bruck said. “The Eastern community has been amazing.”
Several of Julia’s friends came forward to share their memories. Among them was Mara Calabrese, who met Julia in 6th grade.
“We became really close after graduation,” Calabrese said. “She was my best friend. We even argued like sisters, just like her and Jennifer at times.”
Calabrese said that before Julia’s death, the two had a falling out.
“I couldn’t regret that more,” Calabrese said. “I wish we would have been able to make up, but I know that she knows how much I care, and I know that she cares about me. We’ll always be best friends.”
One of Calabrese’s favorite memories with Julia was a trip to Florida together, where the two were stranded at an airport in Memphis, Tenn. for more than 13 hours.
Calabrese said while stranded the two argued at first, but then Calabrese remembered saying, “This is my best friend, let’s make it an adventure.”
Collin Wyke was in an announcing class with Julia, and although they met recently he said the two became friends.
“Julia was always one of those people who was so warm and so kind,” Wyke said.
He remembered Julia showing their class how to do their hair in the style of Jersey Shore for a class project.
“With all of her confidence and all of her swagger, she just looked at them and said ‘Oh come on, you know it’s a guilty pleasure of yours too.’ And that was just who Julia was,” Wyke said. “You couldn’t make her feel bad about herself one minute of the day.”
“She was just one of those people who never had a mean word to say about anybody, and if you tried to say a mean word about anybody in front of her, she would just change the subject or put you in your place,” he said. “She was so kind and confident, and I’m going to miss her a lot.”
Weyhing said one of her favorite memories is of a trip to Briarwood Mall with Julia and Jennifer.
“The entire time they bickered, and I was so irritated at the time … I said ‘I’m going to leave them here.’”
Despite the bickering, Weyhing remembered the sisters walking together through the mall arm in arm afterward.
“I was just sitting there threatening to leave them here, and the next minute they’re best friends.”
Julia’s parents and sisters stood together as the vigil came to an end, and Julia’s father took a moment to speak to those assembled.
“I feel like I am here for all of you, not you being here for us,” he said. “Thank you for being her friend. Thanks for being her support. Thanks for putting up with her.”
Julia’s twin sister Jennifer also spoke, acknowledging the calls, texts and messages she has received since the death of Julia.
“It’s very overwhelming, and I’m very happy to see all of you guys,” she said. “I can’t thank you enough for all the support.”
Jennifer said she believed it was Julia giving her the strength to speak at the vigil.
“I believe that she’s here with me right now.”