Zara Aleena was just minutes from home when she was attacked in the early hours of Sunday morning, reports Correspondent Sejal Karia
Zara Aleena was “on the home stretch” when she was killed as she walked home from a night out, her aunt told hundreds of people at a vigil dedicated to the 35-year-old law graduate.
Ms Aleena was only minutes from her front door when she was attacked while walking along Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, on June 26.
There was an outpouring of love and support at the vigil, which was organised by Ms Aleena’s family, on Saturday.
Many of those in Cranbrook Road donned white clothing, while mourners left dozens of bouquets of flowers and cards in tribute to Ms Aleena.
Roads were closed in the area to allow the crowd to walk the 10-minute journey from the scene of the attack to her home.
Members of Ms Aleena’s family led the crowd as it began tracing the walk home she would have taken, with many holding flowers and pictures of the law graduate and wearing T-shirts bearing her image.
Ms Aleena’s aunt, Farah Naz, stopped yards from the family’s home and turned to the crowd.
She said: “She was on the home stretch. Thank you so much for doing the walk and holding her in your hearts, praying for her, keeping her safe on this journey.“
At this point now, we ask you to go home and thank you so much for being here today because this is our Zara, this is our issue, this is something that we must all change, it must never happen again. Thank you for being here.”
She then invited those who attended to place the flowers they had been carrying together on the ground.
Marai Larasi, a member of campaign group Million Women Rise, said: “We’re here to support the family, we’re here to bring her home in spirit, we’re here to honour her life, and we’re here with absolute exhaustion because we’re tired of vigils, we’re tired of crying and we’re tired of having to bury women of all ages and stages in life.”
A friend of Ms Aleena’s aunt, Ash Vickers, 54, said: “It’s tragic news. She called me on the way from the airport when she heard the news after it happened last Sunday.
“I’m a solicitor and I know that Zara wanted to train as a lawyer, so Farah would often speak to me and let me know how her progress was getting on.
“Tragically, 17-18 years ago my own niece was attacked and also died on the streets of London and also studied law so very tragic, but 17-18 years later, the same thing is happening.”
Sharman Islam Siraj, 38, from Ilford, said: “My mum lives in the area. We are from the area. This is our home. This is our community.
“She was someone that we used to see all the time walking past our house. She was in the same school as my sister, you know. She was just a local girl, and I feel like if this could happen to her, this could happen to anybody.
“It’s shocking that it can happen to her. It’s shocking that it happened here. So I’m here to support the family. I’m here to show love, support, solidarity.”
Anjum Mouj, co-chair of London Black Women’s Project and who was liaising with Ms Allena’s family, spoke to the crowd ahead of the vigil.
She said: “Grandma, mother, aunties, cousins, friends, family, have asked me to thank you from their heart, their heartfelt thanks for you all to be here today, to do this walk with us to take Zara Natasha Aleena home, the steps that she couldn’t take – she could see, it’s in touching distance of her home, it’s in touching distance, she could see her home almost and she couldn’t walk there."
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said Ms Aleena was “an incredible woman and an inspiration to us all”.
He added: “She rightly believed that every woman should be able to walk home safely and today her loved ones and so many from the local community and across the country came to finish the journey she started.”
The vigil took the form of a silent walk that traced the route Ms Aleena had been taking but never got to complete – “to bring her back where she belonged safely”.
Those attending met at 1.30pm opposite Cranbrook Rise in Cranbrook Road, Ilford, starting the walk at 2.17pm – the time in the morning Ms Aleena was attacked.
Her family requested attendees wear white and remain “silent and sombre” as “we walk Zara home in our hearts”.
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Ms Aleena had been returning home from a night out when she was dragged, kicked and stamped on, prosecutors said.
A post-mortem examination found she had suffered multiple serious injuries.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, of Church Elm Lane, Dagenham, east London, appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday accused of murder, attempted rape and robbery.
He entered no pleas and was remanded in custody.