Hundreds mourn slain mother Final goodbyes for La'Toyia Figueroa

Posted: August 27, 2005

About 600 people gathered at a moving ceremony yesterday to pay their final tributes to La'Toyia Figueroa, 24, the pregnant West Philadelphia mother whose disappearance last month gripped the city and the nation.

Addressing the packed sanctuary of St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church on Girard Avenue at Fifth Street, the woman's father, Melvin Figueroa, thanked the police and the community for their support in the search for his daughter.

Figueroa, who led relentless searches for his daughter throughout the city, said he planned to continue working to help people who have missing loved ones.

"I'm not going to stop," Figueroa said. "I'm going to show there is love out here. . . . Let's get our community together and help our children."

La'Toyia Antoinette Figueroa, the mother of a 7-year-old girl, disappeared after receiving a prenatal medical exam on July 18.

The father of her unborn child, Stephen Poaches, 25, was arrested early last Saturday after police followed him and an informant to a grassy area in Chester where Figueroa's body had been left. Poaches is charged with two counts of murder.

During the homily, City Councilman Juan F. Ramos, a cousin of the Figueroa family who is also a deacon at the church, praised Melvin Figueroa's dedication in his search for La'Toyia.

"We all got together," Ramos said of the efforts of police and volunteers. "We all followed Melvin."

Wearing priests' vestments of white and gold, Ramos told the biblical story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. He reflected on La'Toyia Figueroa and her unborn child, whom he referred to as Nyla.

"We are celebrating the resurrection of La'Toyia and Nyla," Ramos said.

The councilman spoke in both English and Spanish to the gathering, which was about equal parts Latino and African American. "Did you get the feeling that you [understood] what was said in Spanish? God is with all of us today."

With some family members at her side, La'Toyia Figueroa's 7-year-old daughter, Izhanae Aleecia Williams, placed a bouquet of flowers on her mother's bronze-colored casket.

The ceremony featured a small Latino choir singing hymns in Spanish, accompanied by two folk guitars.

Ramos' brother, Philadelphia Managing Director Pedro Ramos, and Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson were among the mourners at the service.

Melvin Figueroa said the search for his daughter had helped reunite him with his two sons, from whom he had been estranged for 18 years.

"Now they are part of my life again," he said.

In a reference to Poaches, Figueroa said, "We have to forgive, but never forget. . . . The Lord will make sure he is punished."

The Funeral Mass was the second memorial for La'Toyia Figueroa. On Thursday, about 1,000 people attended a rousing gospel-music filled service at the Victory Christian Center, 5220 Whitby Ave., in West Philadelphia.

"Wasn't that a wonderful, God-filled experience?" Ramos said of the service. "La'Toyia and Nyla were with us last night."

On her way into the church yesterday, Daisy Redmond, one of La'Toyia Figueroa's aunts, said, "We want everyone to know that [La'Toyia] is with the Lord. It will be rough for us for a long time to come. She was special, and her legacy will live on. . . . Her body isn't here, but her spirit is with us."

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark

at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

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