ITHACA, N.Y. — More than 100 people who attended the vigil on the Ithaca Commons for slain woman Josie Berrios were reminded that if it started to rain, it meant the angels were crying.

“We’re not here to throw stones. We’re here to celebrate, hallelujah, the life of Josie,” Pastor Shirley Reeves said. “And I want to let you know that whatever you’re holding in your heart against anyone, let it go. It’s not worth it.”

Then, as if it has been on-cue, a torrential downpour started out of nowhere.

Family members and friends scurried to take cover under the Bernie Milton Pavilion, in nearby doorways and under trees. But the vigil was far from being rained out. The crowd held framed photos of Josie over their heads and chanted her name. It was just the kind of glamorous, attention-getting interruption they’d expect from Josie, who was described as a trailblazing diva.

Berrios was found killed at a construction site early Tuesday morning and a man she’d been close to — Michael Davis — has been charged with murdering her. It’s the second homicide in Tompkins County this year.

Related – 7 things to know about the Josie Berrios case: vigil, donations, support, police seeking more info

As the rain slowed down, the crowd of mourners, wearing tye-dyed T-Shirts or wearing a blush colored rose, were asked to shout out words that made them think of Berrios: glitter, make-up, dancer, inspirational, five-inch heels.

Berrios was a transgender woman who performed in drag shows with a local group called the House of Merlot. She helped found the organization about a dozen years ago in an effort to help create a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.

Her longtime friend Robby Brown, who performed with Berrios, said during the vigil that he saw his friend the day she died.

“You told me my make-up looked bad and asked me if I was at Viva (Taqueria & Cantina) because you could smell Sangria…,” Brown said, adding that one of the last things he told her was to not be late for the drag show on June 22.

“You know, girl, that will never happen,” she told Brown.

“That’s how I will always remember you.”

People spoke for hours about the impact Berrios has had on them. Some talked about years-old memories from high school. Others who didn’t know her as well, talked about chance encounters with her that, while brief,  impacted their life.

Berrios’ mother, Judy Berrios, stood on stage holding hands with family members, including Berrios’ birth mother, and spoke about how Josie had the ability to attract people and bring them together. It’s something Judy Berrios said had not changed with her daughter’s death.

“Through Josie’s life we have reconnected after not speaking for 20 years,” she said about some of the family around her. “We stand together today because the death of our child will not go in vain. It will be a message of hope, a message of acceptance and putting each others differences aside, a message of forgiveness and, ultimately, a message of love.”

She said Josie Berrios was a vivacious, spirited, strong woman who loved hard. Her homicide, which family say was caused by a person she knew and loved, makes her death harder to understand.

But Judy Berrios said that means the community has to work to to redefine what the word “love” means to them

She said, “I do not want you to remember her as the girl who died in Cornell. You will remember her as the girl who accepted everyone and everyone was family.”

A drag show in remembrance of Josie Berrios is happening from 9 p.m. to midnight at The Range, located on the second floor at 119 E. State St. in the Ithaca Commons. For more information, click here. 

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.