Family and friends of Essence Willoughby hold vigil in her honor

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Essence Willoughby loved her family and church, and she always had a smile on her face.

"She was a person that was full of joy and love and hope," family friend Terri Harrison said.

On Saturday family, friends and members of Willoughby's church community remembered and honored the mother of two's spirit at a candlelight vigil.

"She has ministered, even in her passing. Her spirit is here, bringing people together," Harrison said.

Those who were there were all united in the color purple, which has become associated with the struggle against domestic violence.

Willoughby's family said she was a victim of domestic violence. They believe it led to her death.

"I just want this to be a lesson for anybody else that any type of abuse -- whether it be verbal, psychological, or physical -- just stay away. Women are worth more than that; a lot more than that," Willoughby's uncle, Lawrence Smith, said.

Now that she is gone, Willoughby's family said they will always cherish the memories they had with her.

"I'll always remember her determination most, and she knew how to laugh. Even in adverse situations, she knew how to laugh," Smith said.

Willoughby's family is raising funds to help benefit her two children. To donate, or send the family a message, visit

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