ONE YEAR SINCE STUDENT'S BRUTAL SLAYING

Sad anniversary for family of Imette
One year since student's brutal slaying

Saturday, February 24, 2007

BY NICOLE BODE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

TARIQ ZEHAWI / THE RECORD
BOSTON - The cremated ashes of Imette St. Guillen are divided between two urns, intermingled with the ashes of her father, who died when she was a child.

One urn sits on her mother Maureen's suburban Massachusetts mantel, the other inside her sister Alejandra's bedroom. Both are surrounded by a collection of photographs of the beautiful 24-year-old whose savage slaying stunned New York City almost a year ago.

"I think of her all the time," St. Guillen's 60-year-old mother said yesterday, two days before the first anniversary of her daughter's death.

"What would Imette do? What would she think?

"I don't know what tense to use when people ask me if I have children. I think about what she's going to miss in terms of her life. It's very, very difficult.

"Every moment has been a struggle."

St. Guillen, who was studying for a master's degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, vanished near the heart of SoHo after drinking at The Falls bar on Lafayette St.

Police found her naked body hours later dumped amid the weeds along a desolate street in East New York, Brooklyn. She had been bound, raped and suffocated, her face wrapped with tape.

Darryl Littlejohn, the ex-con accused of killing her, worked as a bouncer at The Falls. Witnesses said they saw him escorting St. Guillen from the bar.

St. Guillen's mother and sister have devoted their energy to helping others since the grad student's death, saying that's what she would have wanted.

They created two scholarships in St. Guillen's name - one at her high school, Boston Latin, and another at John Jay, with the help of the Daily News.

St. Guillen's mom said she has found comfort in the arms of loved ones and even in the words of strangers who approach her on the street.

"They'll ask me if I'm Imette's mother and they'll always say, 'Can I give you a hug?' I mean I've been approached in supermarkets when people ask me if they can give me a hug, all ages," she said.

But the simplest experiences, such as watching a sunset, rip apart Maureen's heart because she can no longer share them with her murdered daughter.

"It's very, very difficult when people go on with their lives, friends getting engaged or married, things like that," she said. "You just feel the grandeur of your loss. But she's the one that lost the most - ours is just the sadness."

With the help of the family's lawyers Joseph Tacopina and Rosemarie Arnold, among others, St. Guillen's relatives have successfully campaigned for new laws in New York City that require bar owners to do background checks on bouncers or risk losing their liquor licenses.

St. Guillen's relatives hope to expand those laws to New York State, and possibly nationwide.

Their next project is to develop a Spirit of Imette Foundation that would support charitable organizations that honor her desire to "help people who help people."

"I think Imette would have been most proud of us to be able to do anything, even to just live," her sister said. "I feel like I couldn't do anything without her being around."

Source: New York Daily News