One year since disappearance of 14-year-old Alianna DeFreeze

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CLEVELAND-- It's been one year since 14-year-old Alianna DeFreeze went missing on her way to school. She was found dead days later.

Alianna, a student at E Prep and Village Prep Woodland Hills Campus, was described as a kind and goofy girl, who was light on her feet and had a sing-song voice.

Alianna DeFreeze

She was last seen on Jan. 26, 2017 getting off of an RTA bus at East 93rd Street and Kinsman Avenue in Cleveland. Her mother reported her missing when she learned Alianna didn't make it to school.

Cleveland police searched yards and vacant homes in the area. Three days later after her disappearance, they found her body in an abandoned house on Fuller Avenue.

On Feb. 2, 2017, Cleveland police and U.S. Marshals arrested Christopher Whitaker in the girl's murder. Whitaker, a registered sex offender, was identified using DNA. The 44-year-old was charged with aggravated murder, rape, kidnapping, offenses against a human corpse, burglary and tampering with evidence.

“This defendant snatched a 14-year-old child off the street and brutally murdered her,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley in February. “The facts of this case together with his violent criminal history compels this Office to seek the death penalty.”

Jury selection for Whitaker's trial began this week.

Alianna's murder sparked demands for change. Clergy members started walking students to school in a call for safer streets. State lawmakers introduced legislation, called "Alianna's Alert," to quickly notify parents when students are absent from school.

The teen's horrific death also turned her mother into an advocate for crime victims.

"She (Alianna) really wanted to help people. And I think she'd be proud of the things that are being put into place to help other people so that no one else has to suffer," said Donnesha Cooper, Alianna's mother.

While struggling through the first Christmas without her daughter, Cooper joined other activists to plan a holiday party of families affected by violence.

"She wouldn't want me sitting around feeling sorry for myself, and she loved to do more to help other people," said Cooper, who also has a 3-year-old son.

Continuing coverage of this story here

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