Marylene Riley watched dozens of colorful balloons climb into the blue sky above Merced’s Loughborough area Saturday, in remembrance of her two slain sons – Marlis and Michael Riley.
The release of the balloons and visitation of the sites where her sons were killed has become a somber tradition for Riley every year during the second week of October, but one she feels compelled to do.
"It hurts," she said. "It hurts, but I do it, because I say I’m their voice. I’m my sons’ voice. I don't come in this area except for this time of year."
Riley, 57, was joined Saturday by around 50 supporters and friends at the fifth annual Riley Brothers Victims’ Visual Walk.
The walk, which she organized, started in the FoodMaxx parking lot at 1300 W. Olive Ave. and continued along Meadows Avenue to the locations where the two brothers were killed. Marlis Riley, 27, suffered fatal injuries during a fight in an alleyway near Denver Avenue on Sept.12, 2009.
Less than a year earlier, Marlis' brother Michael was shot to death the night of Oct.7, 2008, near the sidewalk outside the Village Meadows Apartments, in the 1100 block of Loughborough Drive.
During Saturday's walk, prayers were said by Pastor Jerry Huey and the Rev. Don Ramsey.
Earl Riley, 58, the brothers’ father, lead the procession down Meadows Avenue, and roses were placed by family and friends at the exact spots where the Riley brothers were killed.
Marylene Riley remembered her sons as loving individuals. She described Marlis as "a blissful spirit" who was “always smiling and laughing,” and was a "complete joy."
Marlis Riley’s daugther, Lajae Riley, 12 of Turlock, remembered her father always making her laugh. "He always used to take me fishing and stuff. And he always used to take me everywhere he went, and we always used to hang out together," she said.
Marylene Riley remembered her son Michael as a people person who cared and loved. "He was a very positive spirit. He always felt everyone could change, even the baddest person out there. No matter what their lifestyle was, he still felt that that person could change. He just loved people," she said.
Family friends Tawona Green, 34, of Merced, and Shemika Green, 36, of Merced, described Michael and Marlis Riley as their “brothers in Christ.”
"They were very deep into family orientation. We were always a part of it. Mama Riley always kept us as her girls. She called us her girls," Tawona Green explained.
Shemika Green said the annual walk is a blessing because it brings the community together.
"Every year it's been growing. Every year it's more and more people coming out. It's not just the family and friends, but the community is coming out and being aware of the violence that is occurring every day, and every year here in Merced of young men that are dying over mindless and petty small things," she said.
When asked if justice has been served in the brothers’ deaths, Shemika Green was unequivocal with her answer.
"In my opinion I feel that the justice comes in the fact that what they (the perpetrators) tried to tear down and take apart didn’t happen. The family is still holding together. Friends are still holding together. We're still loving one another. So their deaths (were) not in vain. The love that these criminals thought they were taking away from, it didn't happen. The love is still growing," she said.
"These two young men have the community backing them up and showing love, and it's growing every year and it’s such a blessing."
Victims of other violent crimes in the Loughborough area were remembered during the event. For example, the walk stopped at an apartment complex along Denver Avenue where Duane Caradine, the son of Stacy Winzer, 47, was murdered on Aug.12, 2007 at the age of 18.
The men found to have killed Marlis Riley – Nicholas Terrill Rhodes and Donald Emory Watts – eventually pleaded no contest to charges of involuntary manslaughter and were sentenced to four years in prison. They have been released, according to Marylene Riley.
Michael Riley's case remains open, and his killer has not been arrested. He was a 29-year-old Navy veteran and an honors student at Merced College.
Merced Police Detective Joe Deliman is assigned to Michael Riley's case.
"We know that there’s still people out there that know about Michael Riley's homicide. They need to come in and get a hold of me and talk to me about this because it’s the right thing for the family,” Deliman said. “The family wants a little bit of closure. Nothing’s going to bring anybody back, but it’s just for the right of the community. It’s nice that this still happens, because this will bring in phone calls, but we need the people who were there that night. They can do this anonymously, but I need to find out. Direct me in the right direction.”
Marylene Riley thanked the Merced community for the support, love, and prayers over the past years.
"Merced meant something to (Michael and Marlis Riley). They loved Merced, they loved this community and so do I,” she said. “Hopefully this will change, you know, with the violence and stuff throughout the streets. Hopefully. Lord willing I believe it will."
Police are asking anyone with information about Michael Riley’s killing to call Detective Joe Deliman at (209)385-6992 or the department’s anonymous tipline at (209)385-4725. Tips are kept confidential and you can remain anonymous.
Christopher Winterfeldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.