The people who loved Joanna Bird stood on the street where she lived to celebrate her life and commemorate her death last night. A candlelight vigil was held under the skyscraping evergreen tree she saw each day as she walked out of her New Cassel home.

The vigil took place the night before Leonardo Valdez-Cruz, the man who prosecutors say became increasingly violent with Bird, 24, before fatally stabbing her, was to appear in court in connection with her death.

As many as 200 friends and family gathered in front of 421 Grand Blvd. amid freezing temperatures to cry over their loss and laugh at the lighter times they shared with Bird.

"A lot of people loved her," said Sharon Dorsett, Bird's mother. "She was such a good girl."

Her friends placed roses, stuffed teddy bears and bunnies alongside tall candles under the tree, which was also decorated with balloons carrying the words, "I Love You."

Those who came to pay their respects to Bird also wore T-shirts with her face on them under the words "In loving memory" and above the phrase, "We will miss you."

Her brother Walton Bird thanked the crowd for coming while urging county child protective services officials to grant custody of Bird's two children to Dorsett.

"They should be with my mom," he said.

Valdez-Cruz, 23, of Westbury, is scheduled to appear in Nassau County Court for a conference Tuesday, four days after he was arrested in the March 19 killing of Bird.

Police and relatives said Valdez-Cruz haunted and taunted Bird, a onetime girlfriend, until he finally took her life.

Valdez-Cruz is charged with second-degree murder, and he has been held without bail since he was arraigned in a bedside proceeding in Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow Saturday.

He was arrested in Manhattan Friday night. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years to life in prison.

Police found Bird's body at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

Her death came after a series of increasingly violent attacks involving Valdez-Cruz, even after she obtained a restraining order against him last May, police said.

"These people are heartbroken," said Barbara Yanger, a friend of the family. "We can't bring her back.

"Everyone involved in this case should be held accountable."

NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

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NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

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