It was golden hour when the crowd released the purple balloons, the sunset glimmering in stark contrast to those mourning Sierra Robinson and her 2-year-old daughter, Noelani Robinson, on Saturday evening in North Las Vegas.
Police said the 24-year-old Las Vegas woman was killed Monday by Noelani’s father in Milwaukee. Police searched for the missing 2-year-old, but a body was found in Minnesota matching Noelani’s description, officials said Saturday.
On Saturday evening, about 50 people gathered at a pond in Aliante Nature Discovery Park to remember the mother and daughter. The sound of a woman praying was barely audible over a nearby artificial waterfall, and the crowd was mostly silent while releasing balloons and a lantern into the air. People also brought baby items and hygiene supplies to be donated to the Safe Nest domestic violence shelter.
Robinson’s sister, 22-year-old Pasha Weaver, told the crowd that she knew her sister and niece were “up there having a ball” in heaven.
“It’s like a double whammy, feel like I got socked in the gut two times,” Weaver later said.
Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the child’s body found in Minnesota, south of Minneapolis in Steele County, was tentatively identified as Noelani.
Weaver said that she heard the body had been found on Friday and that the girl was “found on the side of the road in a blanket.”
The Minnesota agency is waiting for formal identification and preliminary autopsy results from the medical examiner, according to The Associated Press.
The girl’s father, Dariaz L. Higgins, 34, was arrested Wednesday near Timmerman Airport in Milwaukee on charges of first-degree intentional homicide with a deadly weapon and first-degree reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, police have said. Noelani was not with Higgins when he was arrested.
The shooting on Monday, outside of a Milwaukee residence, also injured another woman, police have said. On Friday, before news broke that the body in Minnesota was found, Milwaukee police pleaded for Noelani’s safe return during a news conference. She had been missing since the shooting.
The FBI also posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to Noelani’s safe return.
During Friday’s news conference, Milwaukee police characterized Higgins as a “cold-blooded killer,” alleging that he had intentionally provided investigators with false information about Noelani’s whereabouts after his arrest.
“Our search to find Noelani has become a game to him,” Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said.
Weaver said that Robinson was in Milwaukee to pick up Noelani from Higgins and that Robinson wanted “her child to know her father.”
“I don’t give a damn what the news talking about their relationship,” she said. “They had no relationship. He was never there, his name isn’t on the birth certificate, he was never around.”
Police said Higgins has ties across the country, including Las Vegas, Miami, Michigan and Illinois, and Morales on Friday described this case as a “textbook definition” of human trafficking. He did not elaborate other than to say that human trafficking was “the world these two individuals live in, the suspect and the victim.”
Las Vegas Justice Court records show a person by the name of Dariaz Higgins was charged with pandering, sex trafficking of an adult, battery with a deadly weapon and accepting earnings from a prostitute. The case was dismissed in November 2014.
Prosecutors said in charging documents that it was unknown if Higgins actually brought Noelani with him to meet Robinson. Police said that Higgins was Robinson’s pimp and they had been romantically involved but were no longer together, The Associated Press reported.
Robinson left Noelani with Higgins when she moved to Las Vegas last month but wanted her back, authorities said.
Weaver said a part of her knew “all along” that Noelani might also be dead.
“You emptied a full clip out on her, and all she went there to do was to get her baby and leave; she didn’t even take a suitcase,” Weaver said in an interview, addressing Higgins.
Weaver said her sister was very outgoing, had an “art for poetry” and dreamed of becoming a registered nurse. She said Robinson always saw the good in people.
“Life gets in the way, and people get steered off their dreams, and it’s like she always kept pushing me, no matter what,” Weaver said.
Noelani, whom the family called “Lani,” loved french fries, cookies, juice and watching the film “Moana,” Weaver said. At the vigil, large poster boards showed photos of Robinson holding Noelani, both smiling. As the sun went down, illuminated candles were arranged to spell their names.
“She was like a grown woman in a little body, she had so many personalities,” Weaver said about her niece.
During the vigil, Weaver spoke to her sister and niece directly.
“We love you sis, we love you Lani,” she said. “Y’all will forever be in our hearts.”