Viktorija Sokolova: Hundreds of balloons tied to West Park gates in memory of tragic teen
Hundreds of balloons have been tied to the gates of West Park in poignant memory of teenager Viktorija Sokolova.
The Wolverhampton park entrance was packed with people of all ages on Saturday evening, wishing to pay tribute to the 14-year-old.
It comes as West Midlands Police pleaded with the public to stop speculating about the case and identifying people they suspect to be involved online.
Viktorija's family have also asked for the people's consideration when posting on social media.
Bethany Zielinskj, a friend of Viktorija's, organised Saturday's event so people could buy a balloon to tie to the fence and help raise money for the youngster's funeral.
But she admitted she never thought so many people would turn up.
The 16-year-old, who knew Viktorija - known as Tori - during their time at school together, said: "I was devastated. And I woke up one morning and thought I'm going to do something to help the family. It's amazing to see Wolverhampton come together like this."
Bethany's mother Tonya added: "I'm absolutely overwhelmed and so proud of my daughter. It's amazing to see the community coming together at such a sad time."
A member of the public discovered Viktorija's body in West Park on the morning of April 12. Police then closed the park off for a week while they carried out a murder investigation.
But now the park has re-opened, its gates and fences have been covered with flowers, photos, banners, balloons, and cuddly toys. Candles have been lit and placed on the pavement and friends and locals have left touching messages.
Another friend of Viktorija's, Rebecca Bennett, said the schoolgirl was 'like a sister to her'.
The 14-year-old brought along a balloon and a laminated message to hang on the gate, which included the words: "I will keep you close in my heart as you will always be my sister from another mister."
Rebecca said: "Tori was my first best friend when I got to King's. She took me under her wing and brought out in me what I am today. I used to be really shy.
"I was so shocked to hear what happened. It's terrible. We were supposed to meet up on the Saturday after."
Viktorija had been a student at King’s School in the city up until December last year, and also spent time at St Edmunds.
Her family could not attend the evening, but Bethany said they passed on their 'good wishes' and thanked everyone who had supported them so far.
Iain Ashbourne, 40, owns toys and balloons shop Batteries Not Included in the Wulfrun Centre and donated more than 700 blue balloons for the memorial event.
He said: "I was contacted by a few people who wanted to order a balloon, and after a few more got in touch I thought I'd come down to sell them on the day. We asked for a £1 minimum donation and all the money has gone to help for the funeral.
"We sold nearly 700 balloons, but some people were buying two balloons and giving £20. I didn't expect to see this many people at all. It's so good to see Wolverhampton cares."
A 16-year-old accused of murdering and raping Viktorija will next appear in Wolverhampton Crown Court on June 8. He cannot be named for legal reasons.
A second teenager remains on bail in connection with the incident, and police have released a statement their investigation is 'by no means at an end'.
Officers are currently trawling through hours of CCTV and have urged the public to stop speculating or identifying people they suspect to be involved.
This call has been backed by Viktorija's family.
Detective Inspector Caroline Corfield said: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank the local community for their support but also to remind people to refrain from speculating or identifying people they suspect to be involved on social media.
“We are aware of several threatening and inaccurate posts and this kind of misuse of social media could undermine the investigation and put innocent people at risk.
“Our thoughts remain with Viktorija’s family who deserve the best opportunity to see justice done and we are determined to present the best evidence to the court.
“If anyone does have any information which could assist the investigation I would appeal to them to contact the incident room on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”
Viktorija's family added: "Please do not blame the family of whoever is responsible for what happened to Viktorija, and we ask that all the rumours that are going around on social media be stopped as we are finding this very upsetting.”
Wolverhampton children’s services ‘need improvement’ after concerns raised over caseloads and recruitment