The 16-year-old’s family and friends were among the huge crowds that gathered at the event in Golden Square, Warrington on Sunday afternoon, one year after Brianna was stabbed to death by Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe in a park in Cheshire on 11 February last year.
Brianna’s mother Esther Ghey wore a pink coat, the teenager’s favourite colour, as she paid tribute to her “amazing, unique and joyful” daughter in a speech in the family’s hometown, with many well-wishers seen wiping away tears.
Ms Ghey cried as she said: “I will be forever thankful that I was lucky enough to spend 16 years with [Brianna]. She taught me so much and gave me so much happiness and love.
“If there’s one piece of advice that I can give to any parent, it would be to hug your children tight and never stop telling them that you love them.
“I want to thank you all for coming here today to pay respect to Brianna. I hope that wherever she is now that she can feel the love that we have created by joining together today.”
Pink flowers, paintings, candles and balloons piled up in the square, as messages for Brianna were also left, including one saying the teenager is “in our hearts forever”.
It read: “Everyone is still grieving a year later. Your family, friends and the public will forever remember you, love you, and cherish all of the lovely memories you created with them. You are so special, beautiful girl. You’re now in the sky, our beautiful star, where you are safe.”
People were later seen holding their phone torches aloft during a two-minute silence at the vigil, which was similar to an event held in the week after the tragedy.
Brianna’s headteacher Emma Mills told those gathered on Sunday to honour the teenager’s memory by being “true to yourself”.
Addressing the mourners, she said: “Brianna knew who she was, and she was determined to be true to that. This determination spirit is something that I always admired about Brianna, and it’s a deserving legacy for us to remember her by.”
During their sentencing, the judge said the “exceptionally brutal” murder had elements of both sadism on the part of Jenkinson, who was handed a minimum term of 22 years, and transphobic hate on the part of Ratcliffe, who must serve a minimum of 20 years.
Brianna’s family was set to spend part of Sunday in quiet reflection in the teenager’s bedroom, where her ashes are held in a casket surrounded by freshly decorated pink walls and a new pink fluffy rug.
“I spoke to one of Brianna’s very close friends, who said, ‘Brianna wouldn’t want to be in the dirt’,” Ms Ghey told the Mail. “I know she wouldn’t want to be on her own. She wouldn’t want to be buried. She would want to be at home with her family.”
Socially anxious and vulnerable, her mother had been pleased when Brianna caught a bus to Linear Park to meet with two other teenagers, one of whom was her supposed friend Scarlett Jenkinson.
Yet horror soon descended when police officers arrived at the family’s home in Culceth, near Warrington on the evening of 11 February, and informed Ms Ghey that a body had been discovered Culcheth Linear Park.
“I had all these horrific thoughts going through my mind, but the most horrific was the one that was true,” Ms Ghey said. “My child was dead. And then the worst possible outcome – that somebody she trusted had done that.”
During the harrowing four-week trial, it emerged that, after weeks of planning, Jenkinson and Ratcliffe had lured Brianna to a park and ambushed her, soon after a failed attempt at killing her with an overdose of ibuprofen.
The twisted duo had an obsession with torture and murder, and had jointly drawn together a “kill list” of five other potential child victims, settling on Brianna as their first target.
Jenkinson, who described herself as a Satanist, later told the jury she began to fantasise about killing people from as young as age 14, and had an obsession with serial killers, Sweeney Todd and torture videos, which she watched on the dark web.
In a handwritten note found in her bedroom, Jenkinson had written out a murder plan titled “Saturday, 11th February, 2023. Victim: Brianna Ghey,” with the word “plan” written underneath with a smiley face and a heart shape.
Speaking of her compassion for Jenkinson’s mother in the aftermath of the young killers’ jailing, Ms Ghey said: “She will be grieving as well and I want her to know that I don’t blame her. I know how difficult it is to keep track of your children. Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook and no one wants to raise a child to do what they did.”
Ms Ghey has now turned her attention to campaigning for better regulation on social media and is calling for new legislation to help parents control what their children can access online.
She has since met with Sir Keir Starmer, and has joined forces with her local MP Charlotte Nichols to campaign for mindfulness lessons to be taught in schools.
As a result, she was present in the House of Commons when Rishi Sunak made a trans jibe towards the Labour leader’s stance on how to “define a woman”. The comment drew immediate backlash, with Brianna’s father Peter Spooner branding the comments “degrading” and “absolutely dehumanising”.
In response, Ms Ghey wrote on Peace & Mind UK, the Facebook page she set up for a campaign in her daughter’s memory, that she did not “wish to comment on reports of wording or comments recently made. My focus is on creating a positive change and a lasting legacy for Brianna.”