A crowd of at least 200 gathered at the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon on Wednesday night to honor and celebrate the life of Pava LaPere, the 26-year-old tech entrepreneur and CEO who was found killed on an apartment rooftop this week.
Kory Bailey, an executive with UpSurge Baltimore, introduced himself as the emcee for the vigil. Through tears, he addressed LaPere’s family directly.
”Thank you for the gift that Pava was to all of us,” he said. “We stand with you; we grieve alongside you. We will get through this together because that’s what Pava would want.”
Police found LaPere’s partially clothed body with signs of blunt-force trauma on the roof of her apartment building in the 300 block of West Franklin Street in the Mount Vernon neighborhood late Monday morning. Baltimore police are searching for 32-year-old Jason Dean Billingsley in LaPere’s death. A first-degree murder warrant was issued for the convicted sex offender Tuesday.
LaPere, a tech entrepreneur who founded the company EcoMap, was described at the vigil as passionate and “a force of nature.”
Bailey said LaPere was “obsessed” with connecting people and that she had a plan to do it. She was “so full of life and energy,” he said, that it was like she couldn’t wait to get up in the morning.
Before the vigil, organized by LaPere’s company, a small orchestra played somber music as the crowd gathered. Many, dressed in black and dark gray, put on EcoMap T-shirts given out in her honor. As speakers gave their remarks, their heads hung low in sadness.
Nick Culbertson, a mentor and friend, said the two shared shared an affinity for each other because they both ran venture-backed artificial intelligence companies.
Acknowledging that many would share what an “amazing” and “inspiring” person LaPere was, he attested to the insecurity she sometimes had running her own company.
Like many startups, EcoMap had its ups and downs, LaPere told The Banner in a May 2023 interview. The company was turned down by investors, went into debt and came close to folding more than once.
”She experienced fear of failure. … These are emotions that all founders feel when they put their entire being into leading others and realizing their vision,” Culbertson said. ”What makes Pava so special is, despite feeling the same emotions that can afflict any of us, she didn’t give up and she didn’t falter.”
Speaking from a podium, LaPere’s father, Frank, told stories from his daughter’s life — often speaking through tears. He described his daughter as a workaholic, relentless in her goals and a daddy’s little girl who became a “girl boss.”
“She’s always been a leader,” he said. “Always been driven in creative ways, always intended and tended to be a high achiever. Even if she didn’t mention it or say it or anything, but you could just tell that she knew what she wanted to accomplish.”
LaPere loved cats but was “never very good at naming her pets,” her dad said. She had a brown rabbit named Fudge, a tabby cat named Bullseye, a black cat named Bean and a white cat named Snowflake.
She left her hometown of Tucson, Arizona, to attend college at Johns Hopkins, where she came up with the idea for her company. She first majored in computer science, switching to sociology her senior year so she could solve societal problems as an entrepreneur. She was recently named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in the category of social impact.
“She came to Johns Hopkins to be a doctor and then realized she didn’t like blood,” her father joked.
Sherrod Davis, EcoMap’s cofounder, described his relationship with LaPere as dependent on one another, like “yin and yang” or “Salt-n-Peppa.”
“People often talk about standing on the shoulders of giants to get to where they are,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of a young, 5-foot-2-inch giant for the last three years.”
Gasping for breath throughout his speech, Davis described how LaPere loved Baltimore so much that he thought “there was no other choice but to build EcoMap here.”
Eden Rodriguez, who said she was LaPere’s best friend and sometimes roommate, asked people to raise their phones, put the flash on and scream “Pava, we love you!” She said there were no candles typically found at vigils because LaPere was an environmentalist.
Davis pledged to keep her partner’s memory alive. “We must never let her noise go quiet,” Davis said.
Thom Huenger, friend and head of customer service at EcoMap, said LaPere made him believe in himself in a way that no one else ever did.
He played a tribute to LaPere on a keyboard — a song he wrote 12 years ago called, “Sing With the Rain.”
“Sing with the rain. Get louder and louder,” Huenger harmonized. “We need someone to save us. You. Finally we save ourselves.”
The vigil ended with handshakes and hugs of attendees comforting one another.
“She saved me from being lost from myself,” Huenger said after the vigil. “The amount of people here shows how many lives she has touched.”
In an interview, Maryland State Senate President Bill Ferguson said it was too soon to say with any certainty what, if anything, the state legislature could do in the wake of LaPere’s death.
“We’re looking at all of it,” he said. “First, obviously, justice has to be done. We have to find the person that did this evil, horrible crime.”
Ferguson said he met LaPere and had exchanged emails with her. He was struck by her presence, he said, and her commitment to Baltimore.
The energy at the vigil, Ferguson said, “that’s the story of the city. It’s not the tragedy.”