‘Her light was untouchable’: Family of Mary Santina Collins calling for justice two years after brutal murder

An artist painted a mural with Mary’s face on a canvas rather than a wall so that it would never be painted over and can be moved to different locations.
A local artist has set up a memorial mural in honor of Mary Collins two years after she was murdered in NoDa.
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 6:57 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 4, 2022 at 6:59 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Two years ago Mary Santina Collins was found murdered in an apartment at Yards at NoDa.

She was 20 years old at the time, but she had a cognitive impairment that caused developmental delays.

It was March 30, 2020 when her family reported her missing after not hearing from her for several days.

Two days prior to that, she took an Uber to visit an acquaintance at the Yards at NoDa apartments.

After the report was filed, police went to the apartment but did not find her.

Related: Fourth person arrested in murder of missing 20-year-old Charlotte woman

It was not until April 4, when police officers returned to the apartment, that they found her body wrapped in several layers of duct tape in trash bags, hidden inside of a mattress. Detectives found dish detergents and pumpkin spice shower gel to help mask the smell.

They also found blood throughout the master bedroom and bath.

According to our news partners at The Charlotte Observer, she had been stabbed 133 times.

Four young people are facing charges.

James Salerno, Lavi Pham and Kelly Lavery are all behind bars. They are charged with murder, kidnapping and concealing and failing to report a death.

America Diehl was charged with felony accessory after the fact and concealing a death. Diehl bonded out of jail.

The details are horrific, but Collins’ family wants her to be remembered for so much more.

In a statement shared to WBTV, her older sister said:

“Mary was everything that was pure. Her spirit was the strongest out of all of us. Mary didn’t get cut any deals yet somehow she maintained this light that was untouchable. She was goofy. She was sweet. She was giving. She was elegant. Graceful in everything she did and you couldn’t help but notice. The world doesn’t have enough women like her in it. The world didn’t deserve to lose her before she had the chance to explore it. We have lost one of our best angels. She deserved better because she was better. I love you forever baby sister. I will never stop sending you love. I will forever shout your name.”

Collins had 22q deletion syndrome, or DiGeorge Syndrome, which causes development delays.

The family is now pushing for the creation of a national alert system for missing persons with disabilities, much like an Amber Alert for missing children or a Silver Alert for seniors.

They believe an alert like that would add more urgency to a missing person’s case with a disability.

WBTV reached out to CMPD for an interview and a spokesperson referred us to this web page with details on their Missing Persons reporting.

The murder trial has not started.

Lavery and Salerno have court dates later this month; Diehl in May; and Pham in June.

A mural with Collins’ face on it is set up outside of the Johnston YMCA, across from the Yards at NoDa.

Artist Spencer Lanning painted it on a canvas rather than a wall so that it would never be painted over and can be moved to different locations.

If you have an idea for its next location you can contact her at Art.Spencerpaige@gmail.com.

For more details on Mary Collins and her family’s quest for justice click here.

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