PALMDALE – Family members and close friends gathered outside the Parkwood Patio apartments Thursday evening to remember James Fitzgerald McElroy, the 21-year-old man killed inside his apartment exactly one year ago.
“We came out here for a memorial to let him know we still think about him every day,” said mother Clemmie Graves. “This is something to give us some peace in our hearts.”
“It was really hard in the beginning, but now I just feel right about where he is,” said sister Meelisa McElroy.
“Forever in our hearts James F. McElroy. We love and miss you!” read one sign.
Family members embraced and shed tears, as they recalled fond memories of McElroy.
“It’s hard not to just want to pick up the phone and call him and talk to him,” said aunt Sonia Tran. “He wasn’t here for the holidays, his daughter’s birthday is coming up and he won’t be here. It’s been really tough on the whole family.”
“There’s no healing process, it will never be the same,” Graves added.
On the night of Feb. 7, 2012, Graves received a frantic call from her son’s girlfriend and rushed to the apartment in the 38000 block of 20th street east in Palmdale. She found her son struggling to breathe with a gunshot wound to the mouth, and she pleaded with him to stay alive as he squeezed her hand.
Less than an hour later, McElroy was gone. (Read more here).
That night, authorities detained McElroy’s roommate, Nicholas Harper. Harper told deputies he shot McElroy by accident, saying the gun went off as he was cleaning it. McElroy’s family members vehemently disputed this conclusion.
They said Harper had been jealous of McElroy because McElroy appeared to have everything going for him, while Harper’s life was in a downward spiral. A week after the shooting, Harper was charged with murder.
Harper pleaded not guilty on April 3, 2012. After a preliminary hearing on May 9, Harper was ordered to stand trial for murder.
Since then, there hasn’t been much movement on the case.
At Thursday night’s vigil, Graves said she was getting frustrated with the process.
“They’re just barely taking it to pretrial. The public defender is trying to find any reason to prolong the case,” she said. “The DA tells us to just let it play out so we can get everything right, so the conviction is there.”
Graves said she was angered to find out that her son’s killer had been socializing on the Internet.
“Nicholas has a facebook and he’s socializing from prison. He’s giving his address out for people to write him and there’s nothing they can do about it,” Graves said. “He’s able to talk to his family and see his kids, but we’ll never see [James] again, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
She vowed to continue going to court until Harper is convicted.
“My son is looking over us and I know that he’d want me to do this for him,” Graves said. “I’m the only one who can speak out for him.”
Harper remains jailed on $2 million bail and is due back in court on March 3, 2013.