Celebration of life marks year since 7-year-old girl was killed in crossfire

Heidy Rivas-Villanueva died in parked car when hit by stray bullet

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Westside family remembers their little girl, who was hit and killed by a stray bullet one year ago.

Sunday marks one year since a 7-year-old Jacksonville girl was killed when she was shot by a stray bullet meant for someone else.

Heidy Rivas-Villanueva was sitting in a parked car with her father and sister when she was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight at a strip mall on 103rd Street. The family had gone to pick up food from a restaurant at the time Heidy's father said his daughter died in his arms.

A service was held at McGirts Creek Regional Park on the Westside to remember Heidy. It was meant to be a celebration of life to remember Heidy as the bright, happy little girl she was. 

Her parents and little sister, Ashlyn, attended Sunday's service. There were pink balloons, teddy bears and a framed picture of Heidy.

One of the most touching moments was the release of white doves which symbolized her life.

Heidy died in her father's arms last August. 

About a dozen other family and friends, along with members of the Justice Coalition attended the service.

Heidy's parents, who speak Spanish, talked about how much their little girl means to them via a friend who translated. 

"You know, it's time to stop the mourning and just turn it into something happy, good, you know. It's a celebration of her going to heaven," said Heidy's parents, Leonel Rivas and Angelica Villanueva.

Her parents said they've gotten through the last year with prayer. They prayed for God to help them forgive the five people charged in connection with Heidi's death. 

"He has tried to just keep his mind busy and not think about what is going on, but there's no second that he doesn't remember the day," the friend who translated said. 

Heidy's mom said the little girl wanted to be a doctor or a police officer when she grew up.

As a symbol of moving forward, Heidy's parents released white doves into the air. 

1,000 miles away in Honduras, Heidy's grandmother and other family members had their own memorial. 

"She was very happy and she had a whole bunch of things that she wanted to do," they said. "She had goals."

Heidi is buried in Honduras, where her family is from and where her grandmother still lives.

Jacksonville police said they received hundreds of tips following her death, which helped lead them to the arrest several people involved in the shooting. 

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