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.”

Kory Bailey, chief ecosystem and relationship officer for UpSurge and close friend of Pava LaPere, hosted a vigil held in her honor at the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon on Sept. 27, 2023.
Kory Bailey, chief ecosystem and relationship officer at UpSurge and close friend of Pava LaPere, hosted a vigil in her honor at the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon on Wednesday. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Musicians play before the start of the vigil for Pava LaPere.
Musicians play before the start of the vigil. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

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.

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The apartment building at 306 W. Franklin St. is where LaPere lived and was later found dead on the rooftop. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

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.

Friends and family of Pava LaPere gather to honor her life. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
EcoMap employees remember Pava LaPere at her vigil.
EcoMap employees remember LaPere at her vigil. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)
Nick Culbertson hugs Sherrod Davis, co-founder and chief operating officer of EcoMap, after Davis spoke about LaPere. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

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.

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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.”

Frank LaPere, father of Pava, honors her life at a vigil in Mount Vernon. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Frank, Nico, and Caroline LaPere, Pava LaPere’s parents and brother, remember her during a vigil.
Frank, Nico and Caroline LaPere, Pava’s parents and brother, remember her during the gathering. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

“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.

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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.

The crowd shouts “We love you, Pava” while holding up their phone flashlights during a vigil for Pava LaPere at the Washington Monument on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
The crowd shouts “Pava, we love you” while holding up their phone flashlights. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

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.”

Sherrod Davis, co-founder and COO of EcoMap, and close friend of Pava LaPere, speaks at her vigil. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”