CLEVELAND — The 11 women who died at the hands of serial killer Anthony Sowell in Cleveland were remembered Friday morning at a memorial garden groundbreaking ceremony where his now-demolished house once stood.
The event took place at 10 a.m. at Imperial Avenue and East 123rd Street. You can watch it in the media player below:
The location will be the future home of a memorial park and garden. The construction was funded last March and construction is expected to be completed in October 2021.
"The memorial and park is a much needed investment in a community that has experienced tremendous tragedy both acutely in the form of the horrific murders that occurred on the site, and more broadly in the systematic disinvestment and gradual depopulation of the neighborhood - a low income neighborhood with a majority Black population. The project seeks to uplift and bring hope to the community by transforming these eight vacant parcels into a memorial to bring closure and healing, restoring the site to a beautiful and ecologically thriving natural area that will provide the surrounding community with a space to gather, recreate, reflect, and enjoy nature," event organizers said.
The following individuals were in attendance at the groundbreaking.
- Pastor Larry L. Harris Sr., Executive Director, Mt. Pleasant Ministerial Alliance
- Pastor Jimmy Gates, Executive Coordinator, Mt. Pleasant Ministerial Alliance
- Bishop Eugene Ward Jr., Secretary, Mt. Pleasant Ministerial Alliance
- Minister Lucretia Colston Bolden, Zion Hill Baptist Church
- Joy Johnson, Executive Director, Burton, Bell, Carr Development, Inc.
- Isaac Robb: Western Reserve Land Conservancy
- Debra Williams, Imperial Families
It's been nearly 12 years since the 11 women were found. In October 2009, Cleveland police were investigating a rape case when they searched Sowell's house and discovered two bodies.
They eventually uncovered the remains of 11 women: Tonia Carmichael, Nancy Cobbs, Tishana Culver, Crystal Dozier, Telacia Fortson, Amelda Hunter, Leshanda Long, Michelle Mason, Kim Yvette Smith, Diane Turner, and Janice Webb.
As the years went on, time hadn't been too kind to Kyana Hunt, the daughter of Nancy Cobbs. Families and friends of the victims described their frustration with waiting for this day to come.
"This has been a hard 11 years," Hunt said. "Each year since this happened, we’ve been looking forward to something."
Sowell was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to die for killing the women. He was also convicted of raping two other women and attempting to rape another.
Sowell died in February 2021 of a terminal illness.
The garden and park will sit at the site where the victims were found; Sowell's home was demolished after the discovery.
For years, Deborah Williams viewed the empty plot as home to empty promises for her loved one, Telacia Fortson. Now, she hopes this project will shine a light on those 11 women.
"When something happens to people who are on drugs or alcohol, they’re human too," Williams said. "We need to stop and listen before we make a quick decision or don’t care."
"Even though this was a tragedy, these women will always be a part of our history," Hunt added.
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