Wednesday, Dec. 11 will mark the one year anniversary of the murder of Eastern Michigan University student Julia Niswender. Bundled-up friends and family gathered on Monday night to celebrate her life and mourn her loss with a candlelight vigil.
Julia, a Monroe, Mich. native who studied communication and aspired to be a news anchor, was a 23-year-old junior at the time of her death. The cause of death has been determined to be asphyxiation from drowning.
Julia’s family opened the vigil at University Park by addressing the crowd of around 50. “Dancing in the Sky” by Dani and Lizzy, a song that speaks of how “here on Earth, everything’s different,” played over the speakers, setting the tempo for the heartfelt memorial.
EMU President Susan Martin spoke briefly about the loss.
“[Julia] was exactly the kind of student Eastern wants,” Martin said, regarding her friendliness and open nature.
Small white candles were distributed among the attendees, who then marched across campus and through the parking lot to Huron River Drive, directly facing the Peninsular Place apartments where Julia was found dead.
Four candles were lit in honor of the victims of violent crimes in the area around campus: Julia, slain EMU football player Demarius Reed, Ypsilanti shooting victim Edward Gwinner and recent shooting survivor Destinee Leapheart, who also resided in Peninsular Place.
Jim Turnquist, Julia’s father, felt proud to see the large group of supporters gathered in remembrance of his daughter.
“These are the individuals that care,” Turnquist said. “Julia touched a whole lot of people and it makes me smile.”
Turnquist mentioned that much has changed in the past year.
“The person who took Julia’s life also took a part of our life,” Turnquist said.
Life has not been any easier for Jennifer Niswender, twin sister of Julia.
“It’s been a complete struggle,” Jennifer said. “I never thought I’d have to grow up without her.”
Jennifer, who also attended EMU and graduated from the journalism program, said that one of the hardest parts about the past year is going through “firsts” without her twin.
“All the holidays are always very hard,” Jennifer said.
An attendee named Laura felt honored to have known Julia. She, Jennifer and Julia had a five-person “lunch group” that met regularly for a semester. She had only known Julia for a year and a half, but said she “would have been grateful for a day.” Lara recalled a time when she was getting ready to leave the country and Julia was one of the few to go out of her way to wish her a safe trip.
“We can’t change what happened,” she said, “but if we live everyday like Julia did, some good will come out of it.”
Another candlelight vigil will be held in Monroe on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. The family also plans to hold an event in honor of Julia that will raise food for the Monroe County Opportunity Program’s food services.