Hundreds gather for Southworth vigil

Umi Southworth 'deserves to be remembered with respect'

jkegley@herald-leader.comlwilson@herald-leader.comJune 17, 2010 

Umi Southworth

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Hundreds of friends, neighbors and co-workers of a slain Lexington wife and mother gathered behind her home Wednesday night to honor her memory and show support for her daughter, a 12-year-old musician who has touched the lives of many who have heard her play and sing.

"She was a shining spot in our life around here," said Sharon Bernard of her friend Umi Southworth and her daughter, Almira. "I wish Almira the best. She had a wonderful mom."

Umi Southworth was found badly beaten June 9 under bushes behind the fourplex where she lived at 1486 Meadowthorpe Avenue. Her head and facial injuries were so extensive that responding police officers and coroner's officials thought she was dead. Nearly five hours later, she was found to be alive.

That gap in time has neighbors wondering whether Southworth, who died the next day, could have been saved. Police are conducting an internal investigation to assess its response.

No arrests had been made in the case, leaving the community on edge.

"We've all been shaken by this," said Rachelle Collins, who lives in the neighborhood. "Our greatest nightmare ... happened to someone in our neighborhood — to a quiet, shy, dignified woman who was left beaten, to die.

"No one deserves to leave this world with that type of indignity."

However, Wednesday's candlelight vigil was not about Southworth's death. It was about putting a face to a woman who was passionate, vibrant and caring, especially when it came to her daughter, Almira Fawn Southworth.

"She wasn't 'that woman'" who was killed, Collins said. "She was Umi Southworth to her friends, Mrs. Southworth to her students. She was 'mom' to Almira. ... She deserves to be remembered with respect."

Some have called Umi Southworth quiet and shy, but many said she was passionate and talkative around those who knew her well.

Dodiet Sutardjo, who spoke on behalf of the Indonesian community, said Southworth was very active in the Indonesian community and went out of her way to do things. She would have appreciated the gathering at the vigil, Sutardjo said. "Our community is here to help Almira, and she knows that."

The Meadowthorpe neighborhood association has set up an education fund for Almira. Contributions can be made at any Central Bank to the Umi Southworth Memorial Fund.

Among those missing from the crowd was Southworth's husband, Don. He was questioned by police after her death and released.

Also missing was Almira. Police have not revealed where the girl has been taken, only that she is safe. As much as the event was a vigil for Umi Southworth, it was a chance for friends to reach out to Almira.

Family friend Angie Martin said Almira and her music were an inspiration to her when her son, a Marine, died. "I wish I could be there for her, as she was for me," she said.

Umi Southworth had planned to move her daughter to Nashville to advance her career, one that friends say is destined.

Musician Vernon Martin remembers the first time he met Almira. The young musician approached him at a restaurant and asked if she could play a song. He was skeptical.

"I said, 'Well, can you?'" he said. "She looked at me like, 'let me show you something.'"

He was astonished, he said, at the girl's natural presence onstage. The audience couldn't get enough. Her song turned into a full set; she played as long as she could before she had to leave to do her homework.

"The kitchen people came out to hear her," he said. "People stopped eating to hear her. She's that good. ... Umi really turned out to be the brains behind it all."

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