CLEVELAND (WJW) – Her family came to Cleveland from Africa for a better life, but Friday night, dozens gathered on W. 50th Street where 5-year-old Apolina Asumani was struck and killed by a speeding hit-and-run driver.
“We are in pain. We cried as much as we could, but we’re still in pain,” said the little girl’s uncle through a translator.
The accident last Saturday has devastated this entire close-knit neighborhood.
A memorial with flowers, balloons and children’s toys has been growing since the accident Saturday, April 23.
One neighbor created and installed a large metal sign warning drivers to slow down.
A 17-year-old female was eventually taken into custody by Cleveland Police. Those officers stood guard at both ends of the street Friday night so that mourners could feel safe.
“It’s been hard. Like, I haven’t been the same since it happened and I haven’t been able to sleep,” said neighbor San Pedro Garcia.
Apolina was one of five children who came here as refugees with their mother.
Mayele Ngemba, President of the local Congolese Community, said that they are all heartbroken and still in shock over Apolina’s death.
“She was only 5 years old,” he said, “She was a pretty girl with a full smile and always helping others.”
At the vigil, the family posted a large picture of the 5-year-old’s battered body taken at the hospital before she passed away.
They added it to the memorial so that everyone who sees it will remember her tragic death.
“The reason we decided to bring that picture out is we want it to be a memory when lawmakers are making laws. We want that picture to come up when people are flying on streets. We want them to look at that picture as a reminder that there are kids on these streets,” said Ngemba.
Also attending the vigil was Cleveland Councilman Kerry McCormack who is already working on getting speed bumps installed in neighborhoods across the city and has a hearing on new legislation Friday, May 6.
“It’s the type of change that we need so this is not just a memorial, but there’s action,” said McCormack, who represents Ward-3.
After two hours sharing tears and hugs, the group released balloons and promised to continue fighting for change, while also pleading with drivers to slow down.
“So please, please, please slow down when driving and be careful and be mindful,” said Ngemba, “Because 5 years old is too young to die.”
A funeral service is planned for Apolina Saturday morning at St. Colman Church, 2027 W 65th St, Cleveland.
A GoFundMe account has also been set up to help pay for funeral and burial expenses.