WHITE and pink balloons, some shaped as stars others as teddy bears floated into the air and over the River Usk as teary-eyed onlookers paid tribute to teenage mum-to-be Nikitta Grender and her unborn daughter, Kelsey-May.
Hundreds of people stood outside the Riverfront Theatre in Newport on Saturday, hugging each other and crying in an emotional tribute following the tragic loss.
There were few words, but thoughts were instead conveyed on the backs of onlookers’ T-shirts, which carried the words “RIP Nikitta and baby Kelsey May”.
Eight-and-a-half months pregnant Miss Grender's body was found in her flat at Broadmead Park, Lliswerry on February 5.
On Saturday, hundreds of people from across Newport let off balloons in her memory and in memory of her unborn child and many balloons carried messages for the pair.
Miss Grender’s uncle, Mark Grender, 39, from Duffryn said: “We’re celebrating a beautiful life and what would have been a beautiful life. The support from so many people that we don’t even know has been tremendous. Nikitta and Kelsey May have touched so many people and we’ve had messages of support from all over the world.”
The event was organised by Julia Rees from St Julians, who didn’t know Miss Grender. She said: “I know her cousin and just felt I wanted to do something for the family.”
Miss Rees advertised the event on Facebook and in shops and said people from as far away as New Zealand had vowed to let off balloons at the same time of 3pm, to show support.
She gave out balloons, encouraging well-wishers to write messages and collected money for the family.
Lliswerry councillor Allan Morris said: "It's been a tough time for the area, but there has been an awful lot of goodwill and the community has really united."
After all the balloons had been let off, Miss Grender’s father Paul Grender stood on a bench and thanked everyone who had come and shown their support.
Locals still struggling with tragedy
Two weeks on from the discovery of Nikitta Grender's body in the bedroom of her burnt out flat, people living close by say residents are still struggling to come to terms with her death.
Miss Grender had been due to give birth to her first child, Kelsey-May, on February 17, the same day as her partner Ryan Mayes' 18th birthday.
Christine Thomas, 61, who lives with her husband Fred, 60, said: "I've lived here for 37 years and never seen anything like this before, people just can't get over it.
"There's still a sense of shock and disbelief round here, this will stay in our memories - they (the family) will be in our thoughts."
The flat where the 19-year-old's body was found has now been boarded up - metal sheets covering the fire-scorched windows.
In the absence of the strong police presence which dominated the close-knit estate for a week, there is a lasting reminder about the tragic loss of life as dozens of flowers and teddy bears adorn the fence outside the flat where Miss Grender died.
Donna Giles, 31, added: "Everyone is devastated, people just can't get their heads round it."
Police chief 'proud' of force
GWENT Police's top officer praised the hard work and dedication of his officers for their work on the murder inquiry.
Chief Constable Mick Giannasi paid tribute to all the officers involved at a special meeting of Gwent Police Authority on Friday.
Around 50 officers, led by Det Supt Geoff Ronayne, were involved in the investigation into the death of Miss Grender.
Mr Giannasi said: "I'm very proud of how the force acquitted itself, not only to do our work quickly, we portrayed ourselves in a professional light. We need to celebrate these things, but we must never forget the personal tragedy for the family and a community."
Mr Giannasi also read out a letter from Lliswerry councillor Allan Morris, who expressed his admiration of the officers involved in the case.
The letter read: "I felt extremely proud that no police force in the country could have provided a better response or reassurance to the community than that provided by officers of Gwent Constabulary."
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Touching tribute
IN a touching tribute, hundreds of people lined the riverside in Newport on Saturday to let off balloons in memory of Nikitta Grender.
Around the city others were doing the same from their own gardens as their way of celebrating the life of the teenager and her unborn baby daughter Kelsey- May
Two weeks on from the discovery of the heavily pregnant teenager's body, the loss is affecting so many people in Newport. The sense of shock and disbelief is palpable.
Let's hope her family and friends can draw some crumb of comfort from realising they have the support of so many.