It began with fresh flowers, but the bouquets quickly withered. So Graciela Fernandez planted a vine that grew long enough to wrap around a wrought-iron heart staked in the ground. She added ribbons of pink and white to the chain-link fence.
One day she arrived to find gifts from a stranger. A birdbath and a bench. The patch of dirt had also been outlined in brick and filled in with wood chips. She sobbed at the gesture.
It's been nearly two years since her 9-year-old daughter Xiomara was discovered stabbed in the parking lot of a Long Beach church. Her stepfather was found beside her with self-inflicted wounds. He survived. Xiomara did not.
Since that Saturday in April 2012, Fernandez has paid weekly visits to the site of her daughter's death.
But Long Beach city officials now say the memorial, which sits just outside the parking lot on northbound Woodruff Avenue, must be removed from public property.
Impromptu memorials are common, cropping up shortly after fatal traffic accidents or shootings. Their power lies in their public placement: signifying a place of tragedy and telling passersby that someone was loved.
Most gradually fade away. Xiomara's has grown and become a weekly refuge for her 42-year-old mother.
At first Fernandez would come to cry and ask the kinds of questions bereft parents pose. Why did my daughter die? How could a young girl be taken so viciously?
Eventually she found peace in the setting. She comes to pray, read her Bible or meditate. She thinks of Xiomara, who laughed often and brimmed with questions and jokes.
She cannot fathom the memorial being moved.
"I want Xiomara's memory to live in the spot where she left this Earth," she said. "This is where I've come to terms with what happened. Being able to come here has given me consolation and maintains my strength."
Long Beach Deputy City Manager Tom Modica said they hope to work with Fernandez on other options, such as planting a tree in a park in remembrance of Xiomara or moving the memorial onto private property.
"We really understand that the family is grieving and wants a place to remember their daughter," he said. "However, there are certain rules about maintaining the public right of way for public services. We have a responsibility to fulfill the law and apply it equally."
The city has a record of one complaint about the memorial. Otherwise, Fernandez seems to have the support of the neighborhood, which was shaken by the events that took place there.
Xiomara had been stabbed in her upper body. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Her stepfather, Jacinto Zuniga Trujillo, was bleeding nearby. The side of a giant metal container bore letters scrawled in blood.
A neighbor discovered the grisly tableau.
Trujillo, 33, was charged with one count of murder with the special circumstance that he killed Xiomara because she was a witness to a crime, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said. He is also charged with five counts of oral copulation/sexual penetration with a child under the age of 10. He is being held at Twin Towers.
Members of Los Altos United Methodist Church, which held a vigil shortly after the slaying, have embraced Fernandez's visits.
"I think there's a real sensitivity of 'What can we do to provide a place of memory and recovery?'" Pastor Mark Ulrickson said.
He said church trustees have had ongoing conversations about exploring ways to help Fernandez keep the memorial, including the possibility of moving it onto their property.