Friends and relatives remember Mitrice Richardson

Outside the mortuary chapel at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Lauren Sutton held a single sunflower.

“It’s her favorite flower,” she said of Mitrice Richardson, the young woman whose remains lay in a rose-bedecked coffin inside the chapel. Sutton, the sister-in-law of Richardson’s mother, added, “They’re so bright and sunny, and that was so her.”

On Friday, friends, family and well-wishers came to Inglewood to pay their respects to Richardson — who had been missing for nearly a year before her remains were discovered Aug. 9 in a ravine in Malibu Canyon.

“Even though we are here to say goodbye to her,” Sutton said, “we are asking the community to help us seek justice for her.”

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of the above photo caption incorrectly spelled Mitrice Richardson’s first name as Matrice.

Richardson’s disappearance after being released from a Los Angeles County sheriff’s station at night without a car or phone triggered public outrage and two negligence lawsuits.

But Friday’s events were mostly a chance for people to remember the Cal State Fullerton graduate who would have turned 25 in April.

In the chapel, photos of her flashed on a video screen with the message “just a pinch of life that was Mitrice,” said Larry Sutton, her stepfather, who helped raise her.

Later, at dusk in a parking lot outside the nearby Forum, a crowd of about 80 gathered, wrapped in sweaters and shawls against the cool air, struggling against the wind to light candles for a vigil. Richardson’s mother, Latice Sutton, and other family members sat in a row of chairs as a recording of Aretha Franklin’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” played.

Psychologist Ronda Hampton told the crowd how she reluctantly took Mitrice on as an intern and ended up dazzled by her.

“She was bright, quick. She was compassionate,” Hampton said. “I knew this girl has a gift — she’s going to be a psychologist.”

In the back of the crowd, Richardson’s father, Michael, stood wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of his daughter. He embraced friends who came by to chat.

He spoke of coping with her death after her long disappearance: “God did it in a way I could accept — over 10 months.”

Richardson was arrested at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu on Sept. 16 after acting bizarrely and saying she was unable to pay her $89 dinner bill. She was released from custody shortly after midnight from the sheriff’s Lost Hills/Malibu station.

In her absence, she became a fixture on cable TV talk shows and the focus of debate over the sheriff’s station’s seemingly thoughtless decision to release a young woman without a car or phone near a rugged canyon.

Her parents and critics contend that she should have been held longer for a mental health evaluation because of her behavior at the restaurant.

Her decomposed remains were found in Malibu Canyon by park rangers searching for illegal marijuana plants.

Sheriff’s officials say there was no sign of foul play. Nor do they believe she fell to her death. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office estimated that her remains had been there at least six months, or possibly the entire time she had been missing.

On Friday, Jordan Allen, a staff pastor from Faithful Central Bible Church, quoted Scripture to the crowd: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

He looked at the family gathered in front: “It sounds comforting unless you happen to be the ones sitting in this front row....The morning will come when you’ll be able to get up and make it from sunup to sundown without breaking down. And you’ll remember the joy.”