The usually bustling intersection near Brookline Boulevard United Presbyterian Church was quiet Thursday night, as a crowd gathered to honor a lost friend.
“People say things about smiles that light up rooms, but it’s the truth with her,” said Tom Pisano, Karissa Kunco’s former softball coach.
Kunco, a 21-year-old Brookline native, was remembered in an impromptu vigil held by friends just hours after news of her death was made public.
She was reported missing Wednesday night after leaving her job, and was found dead Thursday evening near Hickory in Washington County.
Police are searching for Kunco’s ex-boyfriend, Jordan Clemons, who is wanted in connection with her death. He had not been found, as of late Thursday night.
News of Kunco’s death hit the tight-knit Brookline community hard.
“Honestly, growing up in Brookline, it really was like growing up in one huge family,” said Kunco’s childhood friend and softball teammate, Ashley Berkich. “She was very family-oriented and very close with her friends.”
Kunco currently lived in Baldwin Borough with her father, but several people who attended the Brookline vigil had known her for most of her life. Most weren’t ready to talk about the tragedy.
Pisano joined dozens of others in arranging candles and flowers around the cannon monument outside the church. He said he was mainly there to support Kunco’s friends, many of whom he had coached in softball.
“I want the attention to be on them, and on her and her family,” Pisano said. “This is the first time anything like this happened for this group of kids. They’re all in shock right now.”
Mona Beveridge and Dan Kohr, who grew up with Kunco’s mother in Brookline, said it’s the first time anything like this has happened in the community.
Beveridge’s daughters were friends with Kunco. Kohr said Kunco’s grandfather was like a second father to him when he was growing up in Brookline.
“We’re born and raised Brookliners,” Beveridge said. “This is our worst nightmare. This is every parent’s worst nightmare. I can’t imagine what her family feels. My heart aches for them.”
Pisano’s wife, Melinda, said she hopes the vigil will help Kunco be seen as a person, rather than as a story on the news. She was a wonderful person to those who knew her, and losing her truly is tragic, she said.
Berkich said the vigil is just one part of what will no doubt be a very long and difficult healing process. She described Kunco as a phenomenal person, caring and kind, who would always be missed by her friends.
“It’s really hard for this community,” she said. “This is the first step. All we can do is just to be strong for her and her family.”