Sabina Rose O'Donnell fretted when she saw changes taking place last year at Liberty Lands, the Northern Liberties park where she hung out with friends, walked dogs and played with ladybugs. Friends told her the park was being spruced up, but she feared Liberty Lands, like so many corners in the neighborhood, would end up paved over and turned into condos. When new trees, grass and a stage were put in, O'Donnell was delighted, said friend Tommy Updegrove.
On Thursday, Updegrove and members of O'Donnell's family expect hundreds to flock to that park at 3rd and Poplar Streets to raise glasses of champagne in a toast to O'Donnell, 20, who was murdered last week outside her apartment building.
The memorial was organized by O'Donnell's family and friends, who say O'Donnell would have hated to see a traditional funeral held for her.
The service will run from 3 to 7 p.m. Attendees are asked to bring live or potted flowers if they choose, and dress casually for a party. There will be music, as well as food catered from some of O'Donnell's favorite neighborhood restaurants. No plans for a traditional service have been announced.
O'Donnell's family said in a statement Tuesday:
"Sabina experimented with many of the traditional artistic mediums including drawing, photography, modeling, fashion and music. But at a very early age it was readily apparent that dance was going to be the way she would express herself most fully.
Sabina touched so many with her vibrant sparkling spirit. Her laughing, dancing and love will be greatly missed. We know she will forever dance on the stars."
O'Donnell is survived by her mother and stepfather, who she had been living with, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins, a grandmother and "thousands of loving friends," her family said.
No arrests have been made in the killing of O'Donnell, who was strangled in the early-morning hours of June 2 after leaving a friend's apartment and biking home a few blocks. Police believe she was killed by a stranger who approached her in front of her home on 4th Street and Girard Avenue, then dragged her behind the building. Her body was found the next morning.
Police are analyzing DNA evidence and surveillance footage from the area, as well as a T-shirt that may have been worn by O'Donnell's attacker.
The death of the popular O'Donnell, who worked as a waitress but aspired to a career in the arts, has brought out generosity from Northern Liberties residents and others across the city. Friends and family immediately posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of her killer, and a fund established by Updegrove, owner of the restaurant where O'Donnell worked, has collected more to cover funeral expenses and to add to the reward.
Bars and clubs have donated thousands in cash and door sales, along with friends and people who never met her. Philadelphia-based producer Diplo donated $1,000, according to Updegrove, and local radio disc jockey Danny Bonaduce has contributed as well.
Last week, American Airlines donated tickets so that members of O'Donnell's family could fly to Philadelphia from Hawaii this week.
"You've got people who want to donate five bucks by sending a text message, and you've got people who want to mail a check, and then you get these larger private donations," said Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, which he estimated has collected $1,000 to funnel to O'Donnell's fund. "This was an assault on our community, and it was particularly upsetting because it could happen anywhere."
To donate to the Sabina Rose O'Donnell Fund, go to www.pytphilly.com/sabina/. Anyone with information about her death is asked to call 215-546-8477 (TIPS).