KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The family of Essence Willoughby say that she was a loving mother who cared for her young boys, and that ultimately she was the victim of an abusive relationship.
Willoughby, 21, was found dead in an East Side creek on Tuesday. According to police, Willoughby's 3-year-old son gave investigators crucial information that led to his mother's body, telling Willoughby's family that his mother and father had a fight.
Willoughby's boyfriend, 41-year-old Ja Ray, is in custody on unrelated charges. There is no word on when anybody will be charged in Willoughby's murder.
Mother Helen Frazier says that her daughter cherished her two young sons - ages three and one.
"I appreciate the love that she showed and the love that's going to be carried on because of her," said Helen Frazier. "The love she instilled in her children, and we're gonna make sure that they have that."
Willoughby's step-father, Jesse Frazier, says that it was a blessing that his step-daughter's three-year-old son was such a bright kid, as he helped find his mother's body in a creek near where the family attends church.
"He's the one that let us know that there was a problem initially and ultimately where to find her," said Jesse Frazier.
The Frazier's say that their daughter was with Ray for five years, and that they tried several times to get Essence to leave the relationship, which they describe as troubled and abusive.
"Essence actually believed that love could change people, you know, and that's why she stayed in that relationship in spite of what the end was going to bring," said Helen Frazier.
There will be a candlelight vigil for Willoughby this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Gilbert Memorial AME Church at 3700 E. Topping. The public is urged to bring candles and wear purple to take a stand against domestic violence.