LAFAYETTE — Mickey Shunick was celebrated Saturday as a vibrant spirit, a warrior who fought her attacker to the end and a girl whose disappearance brought the community together as never before.
A day-long celebration of memories and music culminated with a group bike ride down the path that Shunick last traveled before being abducted and later killed by Brandon Scott Lavergne.
The 33-year-old offshore worker is now serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in August to first-degree murder charges.
More than a hundred friends and relatives rode together to the end of St. Landry Street near Blackham Coliseum, where University of Louisiana at Lafayette President Joseph Savoie dedicated a small park in honor of Shunick.
One her old bikes has been given a permanent home on a pedestal. Children released 90 monarch butterflies in tribute.
Shunick’s mother, Nancy Rowe, said the memorial was bittersweet.
“People ask if it’s closure, but it’s not,” she said, shifting between tears and laughter as she chatted with friends after the park dedication.
Rowe was riding the same black-and-gold Schwinn bicycle that her daughter rode May 19, when Lavergne admitted to abducting the 21-year-old ULL student after spotting her traveling down St. Landry Street on her way home.
Prosecutors said that Shunick fought until the end, spraying Lavergne with Mace then grabbing the man’s knife and stabbing him several times.
Shunick slumped over after Lavergne took away the knife and stabbed her, but then later, she grabbed the knife again and continued stabbing Lavergne before the man shot her, according to prosecutors.
She was “the golden-haired girl who never gave up” and “the warrior that changed all of our lives for the better,” said Josh Coen, a friend of Shunick’s active in the weeks-long volunteer effort to find her before Lavergne was arrested and revealed where he had placed her body.
Coen described Shunick as a vibrant, opinionated and curious friend who taught horseback riding, loved animals and liked dancing and loud music.
“Mickey was a big ball of light,” he said.
Coen and several friends and family members spoke at the start of the Shunick celebration about noon at Parc International in downtown Lafayette.
“I know Mickey is still feeling the love, and I appreciate it,” Shunick’s sister Charlene “Charlie” Shunick told the gathering.
Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel spoke of the unprecedented volunteer search effort that began operating within a day after Shunick’s disappearance and continued until she was found.
“Mickey brought our people together,” he said.
Heavy rainstorms came and went Saturday, but a drenched crowd danced through an afternoon of music before the group bike ride down St. Landry Street.
Jay Steiner, a friend of Mickey Shunick, stressed that the case should strengthen the community’s resolve “to demand that we should feel safe” on city streets at any time of the day or night.
Shunick was seen about 2 a.m. bicycling from a friend’s home on Ryan Street near downtown to her parents’ home on Governor Miro, about five miles away.
Rowe dismissed any talk that Shunick should not have been on the road at that time.
“She had every right to survive,” Rowe said. “Anybody should be able to live their lives in their home, their yards or in the street at any time.”
Lavergne, a registered sex offender, pleaded guilty Aug. 17 to two counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of both Shunick, 22, and Lisa Pate, 35.
He was arrested July 5 after police investigated a tip that connected him to a white truck seen on a surveillance video about the same time an image had been captured of Shunick passing by.
Lavergne had been a suspect in Pate’s killing since as early as 2000 but had not been indicted in the case until prosecutors gave it another look this year while investigating him in Shunick’s killing.
Pate’s remains were discovered Sept. 21, 1999, in rural Acadia Parish. She had been missing for several months.
Lavergne could have faced the death penalty in the killings but reached a plea agreement for life in prison.