Memorial held in Livingston for Sophia

LIVINGSTON, Calif.

More than 60 people gathered in song and prayer at Memorial Park Friday night for a candlelight vigil. Many wore T-shirts with Sophia's picture on them. Her father Obie Acosta bowed his head as everyone surrounded him to offer their support during this difficult time.

"Not everybody knows her but they all love her and they just all came together. Just feels good to see family and everybody come together so." said family member Rachel Sanchez.

Three year old Sophia Acosta died of head injuries Wednesday four days after Exeter Police found her unresponsive at an apartment complex Saturday afternoon. Obie drove everyday from Livingston to visit his daughter at Children's Hospital in Madera County.

"All I wanted to do was pick her up and just hold her. I couldn't. They allowed me to hold her hand and that was about it." said Obie Acosta.

Investigators are calling her death a homicide and are awaiting lab results to see if she may have been sexually abused.

Sophia's mother Erika Smith and boyfriend Chris Cherry have been named persons of interest, but no arrests have been made.

"Still in shock and we're just devastated and heartbroken. Our lives are just shattered right now." said Diana Coronado.

Diana Coronado is Sophia's grandmother. She believes the Cherry is responsible for the little girls death.

Many residents in the town of Exeter agree with Coronado. People there continued to visit the memorial at Triangle Park Friday night by laying flowers and lighting candles.

"Sophia was a happy kid. They'll all tell you over there. My family will tell you. She always brought smiles to peoples faces. Everyone was happy around her." said Obie Acosta.

Back in Livingston Obie says his new focus is to win custody of Sophia's younger sister Alexa.

"We're told the two families haven't come to an agreement yet on where the funeral services for baby Sophia will be taking place but in the meantime the Acosta family is taking donations by holding a car wash at city hall from 10A.M. to 5 P.M.

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Sophia's father talks about her murder By Shannon Handy

The father of three-year-old Sophia Acosta is speaking out, as Exeter Police continue to investigate who's responsible for her murder.

Sophia Acosta died Wednesday night at Children's Hospital in Madera County, days after police say she was severely abused. We're using her picture at the request of her family.

Sophia's mother and live-in boyfriend have been named "persons of interest" in the case. Sophia's father lives in Livingston. He admits he hasn't played a large role in his daughter's life.

Still, he says, he would always check up on Sophia and her little sister, and that he had no idea anything was wrong.

Clutching a picture, and a small quilt nurses at Children's Hospital made, Obie Acosta will never forget the last time he saw his little girl. "They let me hold her hand for a little bit, said our good byes. That was it."

Obie says Sophia was a happy and energetic three-year-old. "That was my little partner in crime. We'd always be into something."

She and Obie's youngest daughter both lived full time with their mom, Erika, and her boyfriend, Chris, inside this Exeter apartment. It was a place, Obie says, he thought was safe. "They were saying that Chris was a good guy and everything, so I just knew, I was just thinking and hoping they were okay."

Even when Sophia was taken to the hospital in critical condition Saturday, Obie was told she had choked on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But, authorities say, Sophia suffered major injuries. They're now investigating if she was the victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Obie's mom, recalls a conversation she recently had with Sophia's mom, and her boyfriend.

Diana Coronado said, "The last time I spoke to her, which wasn't even two weeks ago, he hung up on me, and she called me right back, but there was something wrong, there was something wrong with her."

Looking back, Obie and his family say they wish they could have done more. "I regret leaving my baby. I just regret leaving both my kids. If I was there, I'm sure none of this would have happened."

Now, they're relying on police, as they plead for an arrest in this case. "For the justice system to really get a grip and grab a hold of these animals that can do this to innocent children," said Coronado.

Sophia's dad plans to file for custody of Sophia's little sister, who is just 16 months old. Right now, she is with Child Protective Services.

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Two memorial funds have been set up to help the family of Sophia Acosta pay for funeral expenses.

Bank of America Branch in Exeter
Sophia Marie Acosta Memorial
Account #: 0888869510

Any Wells Fargo Branch
Sophia Marie Acosta Memorial
Account #: 3675223915

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