Friends and neighbors remember MCAD student with candlelight vigil

WHITTIER — Friends, neighbors and fellow students gathered Thursday night to remember a Minnesota College of Art and Design graduate student who was murdered three weeks earlier.

The candlelight vigil in honor of Kira Simonian began at twilight in Washburn Fair Oaks Park across from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A crowd of several dozen then walked, candles in hand, through the surrounding neighborhood, pausing in front of the apartment building on the 2400 block of 1st Avenue South where Simonian, 32, was found dead June 28.

Deb Bruers of Chaska, a graduate student at MCAD, did not know Simonian well but helped organize the vigil to bring healing to the community.

“I’ve dedicated my life to end violence against women,” Bruers said. “I think women who died in violence … need us to pay attention. They went before they were ready.”

Bruers said she took the idea for the vigil from the Take Back the Night rallies she had participated in for 30 years. The annual march is held to protest violence against women.

“(The marches) were things we didn’t talk at, really,” she said. “It was more the process, just being there.”

Several friends and neighbors spoke before the group set off on a short, candlelit walk. They described her as a creative and determined person, someone who fearlessly pursued her art.

Simonian’s husband, Matthew Gretz, told those gathered he was comforted to know neighbors and fellow MCAD students shared his feeling of loss.

“Let’s tell good stories about Kira, because that’s what she would have wanted,” Gretz said.

After the vigil, he added: “It’s the most impossible thing to go through this, but tonight made it just a little bit easier.”

Emily Sheehan, another MCAD graduate student, said their small class of about 30 students needed to gather “and acknowledge we were all touched by this.”

“We knew her well,” Sheehan said. “It’s a tight group. It hit us hard.”

“She was wonderful and talented and really a vibrant member of our … class,” she said.

Many of those who held a candle in Simonian’s memory never knew her. They came because they lived or worked in the community, and wanted to show solidarity with the students.

Paul Benton said he joined the vigil because he worked in the neighborhood and was concerned about crime. Benton was also troubled by the lack of resolution in Simonian’s death.

“The cops say don’t worry, but they haven’t arrested anyone,” he said.

While police said neighbors were not at risk following Simonian’s death, they have revealed little from their investigation. A report from the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office said that Simonian died from “multiple causes of death.”