Hundreds gather dressed in white at vigil to ‘walk home’ killed Zara Aleena

2 July 2022, 14:25 | Updated: 2 July 2022, 16:48

Hundreds of people, many dressed in white, gathered to pay respects at a vigil for Zara Aleena
Hundreds of people, many dressed in white, gathered to pay respects at a vigil for Zara Aleena. Picture: LBC

By Asher McShane

Hundreds of people have gathered in east London for a vigil dedicated to Zara Aleena, who was killed as she walked home from a night out.

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Many of those in attendance on Cranbrook Road, Ilford, this afternoon donned white clothing while mourners left dozens of bouquets of flowers and cards in tribute to the 35-year-old.

Roads have been closed in the area to allow the crowd to walk the 10-minute journey from the scene of her attack to her home.

Members of Zara Aleena's family led the crowd as it began tracing the walk home the 35-year-old would have taken.

Many in the group held flowers and pictures of Ms Aleena, and wore t-shirts featuring images of her.

Mourners make their way towards Zara's home as they retrace her last steps
Mourners make their way towards Zara's home as they retrace her last steps. Picture: LBC

Anjum Mouj, co-chair of London Black Women's Project - who was liaising with Ms Allena's family, spoke to the crowd ahead of the vigil.

She said: "Grandma, mother, aunties, cousins, friends, family, have asked me to thank you from their heart, their heartfelt thanks for you all to be here today, to do this walk with us to take Zara Natasha Aleena home, the steps that she couldn't take - she could see, it's in touching distance of her home, it's in touching distance, she could see her home almost and she couldn't walk there."

A friend of Ms Aleena's aunt, Ash Vickers, 54, said: "It's tragic news, she called me on the way from the airport when she heard the news after it happened last Sunday.

"I'm a solicitor and I know that Zara wanted to train as a lawyer so Farah would often speak to me, and let me know how her progress was getting on.

"Tragically 17-18 years ago my own niece was attacked and also died on the streets of London and also studied law so very tragic, but 17-18 years later, the same thing is happening."

Hundreds of people walked through the streets of east London in her memory
Hundreds of people walked through the streets of east London in her memory. Picture: LBC

A local campaigner has said she is "tired of crying" over the deaths of women.

Marai Larasi, a member of campaign group Million Women Rise, said: "We're here to support the family, we're here to bring her home in spirit, we're here to honour her life, and we're here with absolute exhaustion because we're tired of vigils, we're tired of crying and we're tired of having to bury women of all ages and stages in life."

The vigil comes one day after Zara's grieving family said the victim was going to "grab her dream" before her life was cut short.

Farah Naz, the aunt of Zara Aleena told LBC Zara was "funny, kind, sweet, clever, hard-working".

She said she was a woman who would "always do the right thing" and "loved her community".

Zara's aunt explained the vigil is about "walking in her shoes and bringing her home".

"It’s going to be part of a process for us. This is for everybody, their grief. For those people that are afraid, those that have been affected by this.

"People are afraid and this is about saying, don’t be afraid, we’re going to walk you home.

"We’re going to change things and we won’t stop until we do.

"We just want to finish the journey for her."

"She can talk, we are all talkers in the family. She speaks her mind. She’s fearless, fierce, she was determined.

"She was at the happiest in her life. She just got this job 5 weeks ago. She completed all her training to become a solicitor."

She added: "All she needed now was a two-year work placement. She was going to grab her dream. That’s what you would see if you saw her now.

"As a family we’ve experienced grief before. But this time we don’t feel like we’ve got any pieces left to pick up.

"We’re quite crushed.

"These last few days have been horrible, horrible for us. There is no word to say what we feel, what we see in our minds. The pictures that we see, what we think and how we carry on.

"We know that we have to carry on, and we know that we will because we owe it to Zara."

Tributes left to Zara in east London
Tributes left to Zara in east London. Picture: Alamy

She said she wanted more action to make sure women are safe in public.

"This is a community issue," she said.

"The other day when a charitable organisation was offering something to us to support us, I said, ‘I don’t want to take.’

"My friend said ‘this is a community issue and we are all involved'.

"What’s happened to Zara is happening all across the country.

"It’s happened to many other women, it’s our issue.

"This isn’t just about us, if we make it just about us then we don’t do anything. This is about connecting with the families of the other women that have been brutally murdered.

"This is about connecting with all of them, standing strong and saying what we know, and what we have to do.

"This is about noticing that Zara is apparently the 52nd woman to have been killed, murdered this year and it’s only June. We want change. We want to talk to leaders.

"We have an entitlement to walk, we have an entitlement to be safe, to be free. We have an entitlement to be free in our minds as well.

"Zara was determined, that’s why she wanted to be a lawyer. She was determined to create more equality.

"She wanted to change the mindset of people who think violence is a way of communication."

She said Zara was a "force to be reckoned with" who would have had great things in her future.

"When she got this job I said ‘Zara you are going to go so many places, this is just your first step'.

"Zara, she was much more capable already and everybody saw that.

"She was thorough, she was organised and she didn’t take any rubbish from anyone. She didn’t allow herself to be dominated. She was going places from the moment she was born. And she was stopped."

The comments come as the man accused of murdering Zara was remanded in custody.

Jordan McSweeney, of Church Elm Lane, Dagenham, east London, appeared at the Old Bailey on Friday morning.

The 29-year-old is accused of killing the 35-year-old as she walked home from a night out along Cranbrook Road in Ilford, east London, in the early hours of Sunday.

He is also accused of robbing Ms Aleena of her mobile phone, keys and handbag, and attempted penetration without consent.

McSweeney appeared via video link from HMP Thameside wearing a green jumper.

He was seen covering his face with his hands ahead of the hearing before sitting back in his chair.

McSweeney spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth.

He will next appear at the Old Bailey on September 30 for a plea hearing.